Naperville murder victim Jeanine Nicarico was honored Tuesday with the namesake of a newly constructed DuPage County facility where authorities investigate crimes against children.
"Going forward today and every day, this center will honor and remember the life of a 10-year-old girl with an endearing, dimpled smile and sparkling eyes," county board Chairman Dan Cronin said.
The opening of the Jeanine Nicarico Children's Advocacy Center at 422 N. County Farm Road in Wheaton comes 30 years after the Naperville girl was abducted from her home and slain by confessed killer Brian Dugan. Her mother, Pat Nicarico, fought back tears as she expressed her family's gratitude for the dedication.
"It's really unfortunate there is such a need in this country, in this world, for this type of facility," she said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "But thank God there are people like you willing to work with these children, help them and bring justice for them."
The $5.6 million facility replaces an outdated building that for years housed the DuPage children's center, which was first of its kind in the state when it opened 26 years ago. State's Attorney Bob Berlin described the new, 15,000-square-foot center as "state-of-the-art" and "child-friendly." He said it features interview rooms equipped for unobtrusive video recording in an environment that is bright with natural light.
Over the years, the center has handled thousands of cases of suspected child abuse, but the numbers continue to climb. Last year, it took on more than 400 cases -- an 11 percent spike since 2011.
"The reality is, our children continue to be victimized by violent offenders and sexual predators," Berlin said. "With the dedication of the (center), we ensure the memory of Jeanine and the dignity of the Nicarico family will live on in the hearts and minds of every person in DuPage County. We recommit ourselves to protecting our children and making sure those who harm them are brought to justice and held accountable."
The new construction, which began exactly 14 months ago Tuesday, was made possible in part by a $500,000 community development grant, as well as $350,000 in savings accumulated by using county personnel and equipment for the project, said Jim Healy, the county's public works chairman. The remaining funds are coming from county savings earmarked for the project and fines collected through the 18th Judicial Circuit court in DuPage.
Among those to tour the building Tuesday was longtime Naperville Mayor George Pradel, who was a police watch commander when Jeanine was reported missing. He recalled the first report coming through.
"The whole city was torn," he said. "But to see what's happened now because of her family and her life has actually been a tremendous inspiration for helping youth. What was a tragedy turned into a wonderful opportunity for young people to get the help they need when there's tragedy in their lives."
Pat Nicarico, whose family also raises money for children's literacy programs in her daughter's name, called the new center "fabulous" and noted its "calming, peaceful setting."
"I just hope that having Jeanine's name on this building, maybe it will help (other children) get through and know there is a future for them, and they also can be happy, bubbly little children like she was," she said. "We are very touched and honored."