Innocents at Risk Founder Deborah Sigmund Dies  


Updated Jan. 13, 2023

Child advocacy non-profit Innocents at Risk founder Deborah “Debbie” Sigmund passed away unexpectedly Jan. 5, leaving behind a legacy of giving back to the wider community through her tireless charity work and philanthropy.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, she was 71 and had been struggling with medical problems for several years.

Innocents at Risk was Sigmund’s brainchild after she learned about human trafficking during a 2003 trip to Europe. Horrified as a mother, Sigmund felt she needed to do something. She spoke to non-profits and visited the United Nations to hear about efforts to combat human trafficking. She spoke with singer Ricky Martin and his own children’s rights non-profit The Ricky Martin Foundation. She visited Queen Silvia of Sweden who had been working on the issue since 1996.

From the U.S. State Department, Sigmund learned about the pressing need to create awareness about human trafficking and child advocacy. She gathered her circle of friends and they quickly agreed to help. As a result, Innocents at Risk was formed as a 501(c)(3) in 2005. The organization is endorsed by The State Department for efforts to save the millions of women and children trafficked annually worldwide. You can find out more about Innocents at Risk and Sigmund’s efforts at: https://www.innocentsatrisk.org/.

“Debbie was beautiful inside and out,” Kandie Stroud, president of Stroud and Associates LLC, told The Georgetowner. “Her smile lit up a room. Her generosity of spirit, her kindness and commitment to the community were boundless. She passionately supported the Washington Ballet and was a champion in the fight to prevent child trafficking. She was devoted to her children and her friends who adored her, loved a good party and never missed an opening night.”

Sigmund’s life did have some public drama, not by any fault of her own. Donald Sigmund, who was married to Deborah for 17 years until spring 2001 — they remarried later—was the target of a pipe bomb planted under the driver’s seat of his Chevy Blazer. His son Wright, then 21, ended up being the victim. He had to endure over 25 skin graft surgeries and a variety of operations. After the incident, Wright’s half-brother Prescott “Scott” Sigmund, disappeared, leaving a wife and two sons behind. He fled to Montana, living under an assumed identity. Eventually, he turned himself in to authorities after the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” broadcast his name and photo. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison for attempting to kill his father.

In addition to her tireless work with Innocents at Risk, Sigmund was a 17-year board member of the Washington Ballet. She and her husband Donald were philanthropists for the Kennedy Center for years.

A memorial service for Debbie Sigmund is planned for 2 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16, at Christ Church Georgetown.

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