Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Innocent Until Proven Guilty - A Family Tragedy

I'm not sure how even to start this entry. Mr. Chick's family has been all over the news lately over something unimaginably horrible that they're being accused of doing. It makes my stomach turn just to think of it.

Mr. Chick has a large extended family. He's an only-child, but his father is one of eleven kids. So there are plenty of aunts, uncles and cousins to make up for the lack of siblings.
The "older" siblings, which includes Mr. Chick's father, were foreign-born and immigrated to this country late in childhood. My father-in-law was 16, I believe. The "younger" set of siblings were either born here, or moved when they were too young to really remember, or be influenced by, the "old country". One of them, in fact, was literally born in transit from one country to the next. Anyway, it seems that the "older" set, by and large, has been more successful. They've worked hard, have/had good careers and families, and essentially kept their shit together. No so for many of the "younger" sibs. Many of them have had legal troubles - drugs, multiple failed marriages, no education, hard-scrabble lives. I'm not sure what the difference was - why some of the kids did so well and some of them failed so miserably. Maybe the parents (Mr. Chick's grandparents, both deceased) got tired and weren't as involved in the upbringing of the younger ones? Maybe it was the influence of now growing up in a smallish town in the US vs. Europe? Who knows. I've met all but one of Mr. Chick's aunts and uncles, and despite many of their personal shortcomings, they are a fun & lively bunch of people. Despite the various arrests and "quirky" lifestyle choices. A few are like trainwrecks. But I like them anyway.

The one I've never met is the one making headlines now. They've kept their distance from the family for their own personal reasons, hence my never even meeting them. Not once in 14 years. But now? Now I'm having my first introduction and it is very unpleasant. You see, they have been arrested on felony manslaughter and arson charges, accused of intentionally locking their own disabled son in their apartment, setting fire to it, and walking away. Their son was badly, severely burned and only lived a few days in a burn unit before dying.

We heard that the son had been badly burned - over 80% of his body - before all this hit the news. The long-lost relatives contacted Mr. Chick's father because he is an attorney. The insurance companies were wanting to settle. The son (who was in his late teens but had only the mental capacity of a young child, apparently) was given a 50/50 chance of survival. They told FIL that their furnace had malfunctioned so they contacted their landlord to fix it. The landlord sent over a repair guy, who supposedly fixed it, but did a faulty job of it and that's what ultimately caused the fire. Hence the insurance companies being involved and wanting to settle.

But when the son died from his injuries, that's when the authorities stepped in and arrested Mr. Chick's aunt and uncle for manslaughter and arson. We don't know the real story. The media is painting a horrific picture of these people and what they're being accused of doing. It's unthinkable. I guess a potentially scandalous story has legs and gets people to tune in. This aunt and uncle have no prior arrests or convictions. They've never been in legal trouble before. And now they stand accused of intentionally killing their own child in a most-heinous way. We went from believing a tragic accident caused the son's injuries and ultimate death to hearing that the parents are being accused of killing him intentionally. Horrible. The part that does seem to be true is that fact that they locked him in the apartment. They made it so he couldn't get out from the inside. Why? I believe it was intended to protect him. He was autistic, disabled. They probably had to lock him in so he wouldn't be able to leave and get hurt. Much the same way that parents will sometimes put the doorknob thingies on the inside of bedroom doors so their toddlers can't escape their rooms. Or block their doorways with gates for the same reason. I think that's what the aunt and uncle were doing with locking him in the apartment, but the media is saying they did it to imprison him and prevent him from escaping the inferno. I think that was a side tragedy of what happened. A risk they took in trying to protect him ultimately made things much, much worse.

A few things don't seem to add up or make sense. If there was a hint or evidence of their guilt, why did the insurance companies get involved wanting to settle so quickly? They are the LAST people who want to pay money if they don't have to. Also, if the aunt and uncle were to desperate to be rid of their autistic, disabled son, why wait until he was a legal adult and could be placed in a group home or something? They cared for this boy his whole life only to be accused of trying to kill him now? And why choose such a horrendous method - being burned to death? If you wanted to kill someone, wouldn't you try to do it in such a way that the chance of survival was minimal? This boy - Mr. Chick's cousin - survived. He was rescued and taken to a burn center. He lived for many days before succumbing to death from his injuries. If taking care of him before was tough, wouldn't caring for him as a burn patient be even worse? You think you'd find a different way of eliminating your "burden" if that was your motive, as the media is trying to say. Also, there is a "paper trail" regarding the problems with the furnace. They really did contact their landlord about their furnace, who really did send someone over to fix it. And then this happened. Do you think they were faking that? Laying the groundwork for an alibi? I doubt it, but I know know for sure. No one does.

So now all we can do is wait to see how this plays out. I've never met any of these people - not the aunt, uncle or now-deceased cousin. But yet they're related to me by marriage. We share an extended family. It's hard on Mr. Chick. He's embarrassed to be linked to this mess, especially since he just started work at his new law firm. He had talked to the litigator about taking the case when we all thought it was a personal injury or product liability situation. Before the cousin died. Before the felony arrests. Before the criminal element creeped in. Before the ugliness. Back when it seemed a horrible, terrible, tragic accident. He's hoping the "scandal" doesn't reflect badly on him as he's trying to establish his reputation at the firm and in the wider legal community. He doesn't want his family associations casting a negative reflection on him. But at the same time he feels terrible about what happened. I guess not having contact for over 14 years allows him to have an emotional distance from this, but still - it's his family. And family is very, very important to him. To both of us.

So for now, I'm going with Innocent Until Proven Guilty, no matter what the news media says, or tries to imply.

That was emotional for me to read, I'm sure it was emotional for you to type and never mind living it. Just pray girl, that's all you can do, pray!
I'm so sorry you and Mr. Chick have to experience this. It must be very hard, whatever happened. I do hope and pray that it all comes out ok in the end. I wish you and your family strength.
So awful! I don't know what to think. But I AM inclined to agree with you. It doesn't seem like they would go through the effort of caring for him all his life and then this?

I will pray for peace for your husband and his family.
I think you are right not to automatically believe what is being said about them. The press seems to be into making a sensational story for ratings, etc, without being 100% truthful with the facts. Mr.Chick must be in a very hard position with this. Having things like that being said about his family cannot be easy. I pray the truth comes out, whatever that may be.
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