Let me start by saying that not only is this important to me but keeping our children safe should be important to all!
The abuse was shockingly brutal, but beyond it was the question: How could this go on for years and no one know anything about it?
We sought answers from police investigators, child welfare authorities, former neighbors and relatives. So far, that reporting has raised questions -- authorities clearly were familiar with the Choate household.
He wasn't going to school. Why didn't truancy officers come calling? Calls to the school districts serving the neighborhood near the trailer found Christian was never enrolled. Records at the district where he had lived before moving to the trailer park showed Christian had been withdrawn from school when his parents notified administrators he was going to be home-schooled. Under Indiana law, school officials have essentially no contact with a child after his parents have announced their intention to home-school them.
Meanwhile, sources said they believed Indiana’s Department of Child Services had been in contact with the Choates prior to Christian’s death, though apparently not regarding Christian. DCS officials, citing state privacy laws, would not reveal anything other than that they weren’t investigating the family at the time Christian died -- detectives were going to have to subpoena the records to get them.
A visit to the trailer park confirmed rumors that neighbors had made complaints. But each resident we talked to who lived in the trailer park during the period the Choates were there said they had never laid eyes on the boy.
Court records mentioned a woman named Lori had sold the cage to the Choates; neighbors said that must’ve been Lori Wingard, who had moved. We found her living in a town an hour south of Gary. Wingard choked up as she explained how she had called DCS twice to report abuse and neglect allegations in 2008, just a few months before Christian allegedly was killed.
Court records in the criminal case also said Christian’s biological mother hadn’t seen the boy since 2005, when Riley’s father got custody of Christian and his sister. How did he get custody? The biological mother wasn’t talking, and court records were sealed, but at a hearing in the murder case, Riley Choate’s lawyer requested the records and mentioned the name of Choate’s lawyer in the custody case. That lawyer, George Galanos, remembered the case and that a court-appointed guardian ad litem had ruled that it was in the best interests of the children to place them with their father.
Relatives of Riley Choate and his wife, Kimberly Kubina, live in Indiana and Kentucky. One relative, Kubina’s sister, confirmed that Christina Choate, Christian’s older sister, started the investigation rolling when she announced her brother hadn’t run away -- as Choate and Kubina told anyone who asked -- but that he was dead and had been buried in a shallow grave two years earlier.
Christian Choate wanted to die.
The 13-year-old boy, whose body Lake County police unearthed last month from a shallow grave in Gary, wrote letters before his death detailing how he was being mistreated, how he just wanted to be liked by his family -- and how he wanted to die.
Christian died in early 2009 of blunt force trauma injuries and a skull fracture, according to the Lake County coroner's office.
The boy's father and stepmother, Riley Choate and Kimberly Kubina Choate, face myriad charges relating to Christian's death, including murder, felony counts of battery, confinement and removing a body from a death scene or altering a death scene, three felony counts of obstruction of justice and three felony counts of neglect of a dependent, Lake Criminal Court records show.
Indiana Department of Child Services records released Friday reveal a history of abuse and neglect by adults who were supposed to be protecting Christian.
A painful life
The boy's short life was marked by allegations of family members physically and sexually abusing him and other underage relatives, DCS records show.
DCS officials investigated eight allegations of physical and sexual abuse, molestation and educational and medical neglect in various homes that Choate family members lived in before Christian's death, records show.
Some of those allegations were made before Christian was born or before he lived in the home.
Riley Choate was accused of abusing Christian in August 2004 -- a year before Riley Choate was given custody of Christian and his sister, Christina, DCS records state. Investigators could not substantiate the abuse allegations.
But DCS officials did determine in August 2004 that Riley Choate physically abused his wife's nieces, who were living with them. Riley Choate was cited for "inappropriate discipline" and bruises on the two girls, DCS records state.
As a result, Kimberly Kubina Choate's nieces were placed in foster care for more than three months. They returned to the Choates' home in December 2004.
In August 2005, Lake Juvenile Court officials also granted Riley Choate custody of Christian and Christina, children he had with Aimee Eriks Estrada.
Eriks Estrada lost custody of Christian and Christina amid accusations that either she or her live-in boyfriend were molesting Christian and two other children. DCS officials substantiated neglect and lack of supervision against Eriks Estrada.
They substantiated abuse against her live-in boyfriend, but he never was criminally charged. The Times is not naming him because he was not charged.
It is unclear from DCS records why Riley Choate -- a convicted felon and known abuser -- was given custody of Christian and Christina instead of placing the children with another relative or in foster care.
Lake Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura could not be reached Friday afternoon for comment.
DCS records show her court granted Riley Choate custody, and Eriks Estrada was allowed supervised visits with the children.
DCS spokeswoman Ann Houseworth said the state agency does not get involved in custody battles but could be called to offer recommendations. She could not say whether DCS investigators were asked to offer recommendations in this case.
Allegations of misdeeds by Riley Choate and Kimberly Kubina Choate continued after the couple secured custody of Christian and Christina, DCS records show.
A cry for help
In 2007, DCS officials were called to the Choates' home to investigate claims that there were 10 children living with them and that the home was dirty.
Investigators cited one adult -- a relative of Kubina Choate -- for medical neglect but did not substantiate any of the other allegations.
In 2008, DCS officials met with the family again while it was living in a mobile home park in Gary. Officials were asked to investigate allegations that at least 10 children were living in the home, one of whom was under what the family called "house arrest" for molesting another child. The allegations were unsubstantiated.
After Christian's body was discovered in May, family members told investigators Christian had molested one of his younger relatives, records show. None of the family members reported the allegation while Christian was alive, DCS records show.
In March 2008, Christian told his pediatrician he was getting locked up at night, medical records show. The doctor never reported it to DCS, according to agency records.
The doctor declined comment Friday when contacted at home. The doctor no longer works for the Highland medical practice where medical records indicate Christian was a patient.
The last contact DCS officials had with Christian was in 2008, the summer before he is believed to have died. Investigators could not substantiate the allegations made against the family.
Letters Christian wrote while locked in a cage detail the mistreatment DCS investigators couldn't find.
In his own words
The boy's letters, which DCS investigators read after his death, paint a disturbing picture of what the boy's life was like before his death in early 2009.
"Christian's writings detail a very sad, depressed child who often wondered when someone, anyone, was going to come check on him and give him food or liquid," DCS records state.
Court documents allege the boy was beaten for several years and kept in a cage for as long as a year before his death in early 2009. His disappearance went unreported until May, when a tip prompted police to investigate.
In documents released Friday, Christian wrote of how often he had to steal food or use the bathroom in his place of confinement. He said he would be let out to clean or vacuum but had to go back inside immediately afterward, DCS records state.
He wrote about other children playing outside while he was confined inside. If he asked for something to do, he was given paper and a pencil, DCS records state.
Some of Christian's writings were random, while others appeared to be assignments from his stepmother, Kimberly Kubina Choate.
Kubina Choate wrote topics on top of some of the pages including, "Why do you want to play with your peter? Why do you still want to see your mom? Why can't you let the past go? What does it mean to be part of a family?" DCS records state.
Analyzing the system
State and local investigators now are trying to determine if and how the system failed to save him.
DCS spokeswoman Ann Houseworth said the state agency followed all Indiana laws and DCS policies and procedures in investigating the many allegations made against Christian's family.
"With regard to this case, DCS did everything it legally could to ensure the well-being of these children at the time of our interactions with the family," she said.
Houseworth said investigators will continue to try to identify opportunities to improve their processes. They already have determined one area that can be improved, she said.
She said DCS workers began training in 2007 on a procedure through which families can bring extended family members, friends and neighbors together to work on the issues that brought DCS into their lives.
Houseworth said DCS likely will identify other improvements as it continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding Christian's death.
These articles were written when word got out of Christians death and how brutal it was and how a 13 yr old boy wrote about how he wanted to die!
No child should have to go through what Christian did and no child should want to die because he/she want to escape the abuse!
In 2009, 13 year old Christian Choate was beaten to death after years of physical and mental torture by his father and step mother. He was confined to a wire dog cage for the last year of his life, not being allowed to eat, hydrate, use the toilet, play or move around. He wrote pages of heart-wrenching accounts of his suffering, wondering when an adult would come to rescue him. After dying from blows to the head, his body was wrapped in trash bags, buried and encased in cement by his father and step mother. In July of 2011, his body was finally discovered by authorities.
For ten years prior to Christian's death, child protective authorities investigated and visited the family, most of the time concluding that they found "no evidence" of abuse and neglect. The Indiana child protective (DCS) spokesperson, Anne Houseworth claimed, "We followed all state laws, all policies and procedures." She added, "If we don't see evidence of abuse, and no one admits anything is going on, there is nothing for us to do,"
Children all over the country suffer the gross failure of the system to protect them, but it is only when tragedies occur, like the death of Christian, that the public becomes aware of the severity of the problem. In the interests of following protocol, even in cases when years and years of reports are made, child protective authorities refuse to remove children from severely abusive and physically neglectful environments. Terrified children rarely admit to abuse or neglect when questioned and parents are often notified ahead of time before social workers arrive.
Tell law makers to make it a felony if the supervisors of state child protective authorities fail to take action to protect children when more than two separate, credible reports have been made against a family or when there is strong suspicion by CPS that there is severe physical abuse, sexual abuse and/or severe physical neglect (not educational neglect) occurring in the home.
Protection can be a number of different services, such as daily in home visits from social workers to observe family dynamics over a period of time, mandatory parenting education with home observations, classes for the children teaching them about their right to be free from abuse and how to identify it, mandatory in home therapy from a team with the focus on attachment parenting education (not child behavior modification), placing the child with relatives while the parents receive treatment, placing the entire family in a "foster care" situation with a supportive family modeling healthy child care, placing the entire family in a program with a small group of other families or, in the case of chronic abuse or chronic severe physical neglect, the parents refusing to cooperate with services or in a case of life threatening torture, removal of the child from parents!