A father has forgiven a man who urinated on his late son’s memorial and is crowdfunding to renovate its surrounding park.
“I grew up playing baseball next to the park with my siblings — it’s part of my childhood,” Mark Clopp of Hamilton Township, New Jersey, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Christian passed away before he had the opportunity to play soccer there.”
Last week, Bryan Bellace, 23, from Egg Harbor City urinated on a memorial stone for Christian Clopp, Mark’s 9-year-old son who died from brain cancer in February 2012. Bellace’s friend Daniel Flippen, 23, from Hammonton recorded it for Snapchat.
Christian’s stone at Underhill Park in Mays Landing reads, “A child who made the world a better place through his courage, faith, smile, laughter and love of others. May your memory and inspiration live on forever.” It written by Christian’s parents, Mark and Joan Clopp, and their 19-year-old son.
After the memorial was vandalized, Mark, a former Hamilton Township police officer, wrote on Facebook, “...I think this incident can be turned into a positive by becoming a learning experience for all…As for the two actors: I don’t know either one of you. I have no idea what exists in your life to make you so indifferent to how others feel but I hope this serves as a wake-up call and you get the help you need.”
He continued: “I admit, my initial reaction was to find you and beat you senseless in defense of my son’s honor and the distress you caused my family. I am better than that. I hope it doesn’t take the heartache my family has lived through to open your eyes. Something is wrong in your life and you need to fix it. You have done serious damage to your reputation; only you can fix it. How you respond to this dictates the direction your life will take.”
Two local youth football coaches disinfected the memorial, reported CNN, and helped promote Christian's Bubble Brigade, an event for children to blow bubbles over the boy’s plaque as cleansing symbolism.
On Sunday, Township of Hamilton Police Department charged Bellace with lewdness, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief and having an open alcoholic beverage in a park. Flippen was charged with the latter.
Bellace was also fired from Bruce Bellace Plumbing and Heating, his family’s business. "I had to remove him from employment," the father told Press of Atlantic City. "We apologized to the family... I'm sorry for his actions. I'm not proud of him…Ultimately it's my fault. Maybe we didn't teach him right."
On Monday, ABC News contacted both men — Flippen wouldn’t comment but Bellace said, "It was a big mistake I made. I was intoxicated. I didn't know what I was doing at the time. When I came to my senses the next day, I realized I made a huge mistake. I wish I could take it all back and make things right."
Bellace met with Mark to apologize personally, in a CBS 3 video segment. “I’m very deeply sorry about what I’ve done and if I could take it all back and do it all over again, I would,” the man said.
Mark tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he forgave Bellace for closure. “I wasn’t very comfortable being on camera because apologies are a private thing, but I decided to heal and move on and forgive and forget…there’s no animosity.”
The father went to high school with Bellace’s own father, who apologized and made a generous donation to a Mark’s fundraiser, “The Christian Clopp Memorial All-Access Playground.”
Created as a Facebook fundraiser Monday, the family has raised $4.5K of their $50K goal. Many donors are big Christian fans. “When Christian got sick at age 8-and-a-half, I wrote daily Facebook posts about his illness,” Mark tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “He had 10,000 followers all over the world.”
“The tumor was in the nerve center of his brain and he would go from walking and talking one day to shutting off the next,” says Mark. “He didn’t know he had a rock star following.”
Two years after Christian passed, a town committee member suggested building an all-access playground in his name. Money from Mark’s fundraiser will make it even nicer.
“We could build a nice picnic area, additional structures for the playground, or give the space a complete facelift for all of Hamilton Township’s athletic fields, including the soccer fields Christian grew up playing on,” Mark tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “No matter what, it will be a good place for children and families to enjoy.”
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