Grief and anger at the sexual assault and killing of a 7-year-old girl brought thousands to a rain-soaked rally for laws to force notification of neighbors when sex offenders move into an area.
The crowd at Veterans Park on Tuesday was dotted with pink ribbons in memory of Megan Kanka. A convicted sex offender who lived across the street is charged with her death.Many in the crowd carried candles, unlit because of the rain.
"Light your candles on your porches and think of my little girl," a tearful Maureen Kanka told the crowd.
Megan's body was found Saturday in a park. Authorities say Jesse Timmendequas, 33, confessed to sexually assaulting and murdering her. He was held Tuesday on $500,000 cash bail.
Timmendequas lived across the street from Megan, sharing the house with two other men who also had been convicted of sex crimes against children. The three met at a treatment center for compulsive sex offenders.
Prosecutors say Timmendequas lured Megan into the house Friday by offering to show her his new puppy. He then pulled the girl into his room, strangled her with a belt and sexually assaulted her, said deputy assistant prosecutor Kathryn Flicker.
Timmendequas was convicted of attempted sexual contact in 1981 and of aggravated assault and attempted sexual assault of a child in 1982, which got him a 10-year prison sentence. Time off for good behavior reduced his sentence to six years, and he was released in February 1988.
Megan's family is calling for legislation - already nicknamed "Megan's Law" - that would require neighborhood notification when sex offenders move to a community.
Gov. Christie Whitman appeared at the rally, which was originally planned as part of the "National Night Out" anti-crime campaign.
Whitman said she had instructed Attorney General Deborah Poritz to study notification laws in other states and seek a model that would meet constitutional standards.
"I urge you to turn your anger and sorrow into a force for good," she said. "Megan's memory deserves our very best efforts."
As Whitman and others spoke, families lined up to sign a petition calling for a notification law.
The street where Megan lived was filled with cars as people came to sign petitions calling for legislative action. Neighbors tied pink ribbons on car antennas.
All the houses on the street bore large pink ribbons - except the one where Timmendequas lived.