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Hundreds of strangers donating to fundraising effort for Jeffrey Baldwin statue

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TORONTO - Five-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin has been dead for more than a decade, but a long-awaited coroner's inquest has sparked renewed horror about his severe starvation — even for those who had never heard of the neglected boy.

Jeffrey wasted away to the weight of a baby, locked in his cold, urine- and feces-stained bedroom in the Toronto home of this grandmother, his Catholic Children's Aid Society-approved guardian, the inquest heard.

Jeffrey died on Nov. 30, 2002, weeks shy of his sixth birthday, and though more than a decade has passed, a coroner's inquest into his death has once again brought his tragic tale to the attention of people across the country and around the globe.

Todd Boyce, a father of four and government IT worker in Ottawa, doesn't recall reading about Jeffrey's story when the boy died or when his grandparents were convicted of second-degree murder in 2006.

But when the coroner's inquest began in September — closing arguments are set for the first week of February — the story caught Boyce's eye and he just couldn't get it out of his mind.

"For a little boy to be so lonely, neglected and abused, to be hurt that much for such an extended period just really affected me," he said.

"It just made me really sad."

As the inquest draws to a close, Boyce wants to make sure Jeffrey isn't forgotten. He is raising money to have a statue of Jeffrey built at the site of an existing memorial, currently consisting of a bench and a tree, in Greenwood Park, near where he lived.

"I felt (a statue) was something tangible," Boyce said.

"It's something that's permanent so many, many years from now people will be able to observe it, read about Jeffrey's story and have them pay attention to the signs of child abuse and be more inclined to report it if they see it."

The project is in the early stages, but artist Ruth Abernethy has already sketched out a design. Abernethy's work includes a Glenn Gould bronze statue on a bench on Front Street in Toronto and a bronze Oscar Peterson outside the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

She has not officially signed on and Boyce had not yet raised the $25,000 he believes he needs for the project, but Abernethy called her involvement a "likelihood."

"How could you not be moved?" she said from her home in Wellesley, Ont. "It is heart rending. I don't think there is a better phrase for it."

Boyce wants to see Jeffrey depicted in a Superman costume, harkening back to inquest testimony from Jeffrey's father.

Before his teenage parents lost custody of Jeffrey to his maternal grandparents the little boy was very energetic and loved the superhero, Richard Baldwin testified at the inquest.

"He wanted to fly," Baldwin said. "He tried jumping off the chair. We had to make him stop. He dressed up (as Superman) for Halloween one year...He was so excited. I have that picture at home hanging on my wall. He was our little man of steel."

Jeffrey's story resonated not only with Boyce, but with the hundreds of people who have donated to his fundraising effort on the website, now at more than $16,000. The campaign expires on Tuesday.

The executives of an Ontario foundry that has worked with Abernethy in the past are among Boyce's donors and they got her involved in the project.

Boyce has also heard from people from all over, from as close as Jeffrey's own neighbourhood to as far away as the U.S. and Australia, who say Jeffrey's story has touched them.

"Thank you so much for doing this," one donor wrote. "What a beautiful boy who deserved so much better."

Another donor wrote that they lived on Jeffrey's street for 23 years and would see his grandparents and siblings on the porch.

"My ignorance sickens me," the donor wrote.

"I was completely unaware of the little boy's torment and find it very difficult to admit the fact. Our neighbourhood has changed drastically since then...Change is good even though too late. A small statue of Jeffrey — fitting."

Boyce is also organizing a fundraising gala for March 1 at Stirling Room in Toronto.

Coun. Paula Fletcher, whose ward includes Greenwood Park, is supporting Boyce's efforts and helping him navigate the various protocol steps with the city. She put forward a motion, adopted Thursday, to the city's parks and environment committee requesting the deputy city manager to identify the processes necessary to add the statue to the memorial.

"The number of people that are donating and want to make this happen makes you feel great that people remember and they want to be part of this," Fletcher said.

Jeffrey's birthday is Jan. 20, 1997. He would be turning 17.

Follow @allisonjones_cp on Twitter

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