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Daughter organizes playground cleanup while recalling her father's death

Daughter organizes playground cleanup while recalling her father's death

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WATERLOO | Sunlight flickered off broken glass as a volunteer swept the shards -- the remnants of an eastern ground-floor window at Longfellow Elementary -- into piles in the former school’s parking lot Sunday.

A torn slab of plywood that used to cover the window was yards away.

On the other side of the defunct school, April Washburn and a dozen friends worked rakes across the overgrown playground, pulling up weeds, more glass and sundry other debris.

“Lots of glass and garbage. We found some clothes and stuff like that. Somebody found a fish head,” April Washburn said. Another find: a crowbar, possibly used to remove the plywood from the window.

The Sunday afternoon cleanup at the long-closed school was a project April Washburn had been contemplating for about a year, ever since her father, 69-year-old Dennis Washburn, was found unconscious on the school grounds and later died of head and neck injuries.

She said she was inspired by seeing others come forward recently to clean up parks as a way to make a statement following violence, and she hopes the Longfellow cleanup becomes an annual event.

“I thought this was the best time to do it,” she said. “They have that summer lunch program up here at the school, and I know when I was a kid, we played on the playground while we were waiting for the lunch truck to come, and after we ate, we played too.”

As the work neared completion Sunday, April Washburn walked over to a sidewalk between the boarded-up school building and the playground. It was where her father was discovered unresponsive late at night a year ago last weekend.

“Right there by those steps,” she said pointing. “And his walker was right here.”

Dennis Washburn had been walking home from a West Parker Street tavern. It isn’t clear if his fatal injuries came from a fall or a robbery. A state medical examiner determined he died of blunt trauma but was unable to determine how it happened. His empty wallet was located at the end of the sidewalk, which leads his family to suspect a mugging.

Police said their investigation into his death remains open but is at a standstill. Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to a criminal charge.

Anyone with information on Dennis Washburn’s death is asked to call the Waterloo Police Department at 291-4340, ext. 7, or Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers at (855) 300-8477. Tips may also be left at


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