Abused boy’s grave at Ridgelawn Cemetery in Gary now marked by donated stone
BY TERESA AUCH SCHULTZ firstname.lastname@example.org November 1, 2013 12:36PM
Patricia Breslin of Arlington, Wash. never knew Christian Choate but she was so moved by his story that she spent a year collecting donations to pay for the $2,000 headstone, which was dedicated Friday. | Teresa Auch Schultz/Post-Tribune
Updated: December 3, 2013 6:09AM
GARY — For the first time since his father buried his beaten and broken body in a shallow grave under a concrete slab beneath a storage shed in April 2009, young Christian Choate has a gravestone to let the world know where he rests.
Community and maternal family members gathered Friday morning at Ridgelawn Cemetery in Gary to pay their respects to the boy and to celebrate the marker, which came after a woman none of them knew — Patricia Breslin of Arlington, Wash. — spent a year collecting donations to pay for the $2,000 headstone.
“We were so elated,” Christian’s maternal grandfather, Bernard Eriks, said of discovering Breslin’s work. “We’d been saving and saving and saving and then we got word that this came through.”
Christian died on April 2, 2009, after years of abuse at the hands of his father, Riley Choate, and stepmother, Kimberly Kubina. Choate buried the 13-year-old’s body the day he died in a plastic bag on the family’s property in the Colfax Mobile Home Park in Black Oak.
The family, which had been investigated several times by the Department of Child Services before then but hadn’t lost custody of Christian, never told anyone he died and quietly moved to Kentucky. The rest of the world didn’t discover his death until two years later when his sister, Christina, told authorities and her mother, Aimee Estrada, what had happened.
Choate and Kubina both eventually pleaded guilty in his death and admitted to regularly beating and starving him and keeping him locked up in a dog crate for the last year of his life. Choate is serving an 80-year sentence, and Kubina is serving a 35-year sentence.
Choate’s body finally got a proper burial after a Lake County judge released his body to Eriks’ family in September 2012. However, they didn’t have enough money to pay for a headstone and had to find his grave by remembering which headstones were nearby.
Breslin said she first heard about Christian after seeing a story online in 2011.
“When I saw his face, that smile and those sad eyes, it broke my heart,” said Breslin, who was at the cemetery Friday.
She called Ridgelawn Funeral Home after she found out he would be buried and started a series of discussions with them about how she could help. Sheila Kirby, executive funeral director for the funeral home, said they knew from the beginning that paying for a headstone would be a problem. She said Breslin’s desire, from the start, was how she could help.
Breslin said it took her a year of asking people for donations — “begging” — before she could get enough money. Although many of the people and churches she approached didn’t seem to want to help someone who wasn’t part of their own community, Breslin said she considered Christian a part of everyone’s community.
She read a poem during the service that described how she had named a star after him and looks up at it night to remember him.
“You’ll always shine on this world, Christian,” she said.
The Rev. Steve Kosinski of All Saints Church in Hammond also spoke, noting that Christian would now be 17 if he were still alive.
“There was no patience for you,” Kosinski said. “...There was no mercy. Christian, you are in peace right now.”
Schererville resident Theresa Nordyke said she didn’t know Christian but wanted to pay her respects after hearing about what happened to him.
“It’s hard to believe what a hard life he had,” Nordyke said. “Such an innocent young boy. It feels good to see this happen.”
Breslin said it was important to her that the community help Christian after his death, especially after it failed him before.
“Society is at fault, yes, but society also cares,” she said. “...Today’s about never forgetting.”
She added that she hopes Christian’s death spurs other people to speak up if they see another child being abused.
For Christian’s grandfather, the marker means not only that he and his family know Christian’s final burial place, but also that the world does, as well. However, people won’t find him if they look for Christian Choates.
Instead, at the request of Christian’s biological mother, they will find his grave marked as Christian Eriks, born Dec. 27, 1995 and died 2009.