The Short Life and Long Death of Christian Choate

July 16, 2011  |  Current Events, Fatherhood

Lost in the fanfare surrounding Casey Anthony’s trial and acquittal is another story of child murder that doesn’t seem to be generating the same headlines. That’s too bad because, for me, it’s a story not just of brutality and evil but of our communal failure to care for the people around us.

Christian Choate

Christian Choate was 13 years old when his father beat him to death. Being dead, by Christian’s own account, was a step up from living the dog cage where his father, Riley, and step-mother confined him for well over a year. He was regularly beaten, starved and forced to live in his own waste – taken out only on occasion to help with household chores. Sometimes he was given a pencil and paper so he could write down his thoughts on confinement and why he deserved to be treated as he was. On the good days, Christian wrote about how we wanted to go outside and play . On the bad days, he wrote about how he wanted to die rather than endure any more.

One evening, Riley – whose mugshot appears to show a slobbering fat prick of no less that 220 pounds — punched his frail, malnourished child in the head, full force about a half a dozen times then locked him back in the kennel. At some point in the night, Christian’s sister informed her father that Christian wasn’t breathing. Dad and step-mom wrapped his dead body in a garbage bag and buried him beneath a slab of concrete in the trailer park. It took two years for somebody to finally whisper in someone’s ear and get the police involved. Two full years.

There’s something exponentially worse about what happened to Christian than about the Casey Anthony docudrama or Susan Smith’s mental collapse, because this particular abomination happened in plain sight, in a trailer park over the course of more than a year. For a decade, Child Protective Services had an open file on the Choate family but – impossibly – could never come up with evidence of abuse. It’s a baffling collision of incompetence and bureaucracy and it cost a child his life.

Even if we can, somehow, accept that there’s nothing extraordinary about the way the system failed Christian (it happens all too regularly), we’re still left with a troubling question: Where were the rest of us? Where were the aunts and uncles, the cousins, the mother, the siblings, the passersby, the neighbors, the teachers? How did a year of torture and two years in a hole in the ground go unnoticed?

By the age of 12, I had first hand experience with sad fact that there’s nothing inherently special about being a parent — any idiot with the right anatomy can have a child. I got through this period of my life unscathed and unabused because people that didn’t have any stake in my well being, folks that had no obligation to me whatsoever, made the somewhat courageous decision to give me a home and role models and friends when I needed all of those things. People watched out for me.

Why did no one do the same for Christian?

Stories like this leave me feeling angry and helpless and – most of all – guilt stricken.

“Hey, has anyone seen that home schooled kid? I haven’t seen him in, like, a year”. Shrug. “Who knows, I can’t talk now, the new season of True Blood is on.”

I have day-dreams where I can turn the clock back 3 years and waltz into that trailer park with a machete and a tazer and do things that would land me a spot in criminal psychology books for generations to come. But I can do no such thing. And even if I could, it’s a self-serving fantasy that misses the point. Nothing so dramatic or heroic is required of any of us. Simply that we be present enough to know when we are needed and courageous enough to meet that need when we see it. It’s a crucial gap in our society that desperately needs filling.

Our indignation and thirst for postmortem retribution might make us feel vigilant and involved – but only after the fact. Christian is still dead. In some small way, I feel like we were all accomplices – not in his actual death but in allowing these monsters enough dark corners from which to spread their sickness. It’s not enough to count on an overwhelmed, under-qualified group of bureaucrats to defend the defenseless. We have to be willing to shine a light into every dark corner, to knock on doors, ask questions and make uncomfortable calls — even when we might be wrong.

The opposite of compassion isn’t malevolence, it’s indifference. All the Riley Choates of the world need is our indifference and they’re free to lock children in cages and bury them in shallow graves.


  1. The frustration you feel is shared…I to would want to go back and take care of this monster. To do the things that MUST be done. Too often people are too self absorbed, too afraid, too gutless to do what they know needs to be done. They assume that someone else will get involved, to do the right thing.

    According to the story, this child had at least a sibling…how old we do not know. Why did she not say anything to anyone else?

    Yet again, we have a story illustrating the failings of CPS. Where are they when crap like this happens. Are they too busy going after those parents that ‘spank’? Are they too blind to true horrors? Again, we do not know the whole story.

    May this child know peace and happiness in whatever may come next.

    Now, I need to step away and calm down…I am being affected by this story in ways I do not like.

    Good post AC…

  2. It is truly a sad thing to know these types of events occur. What is equally sad is that they occur with such regularity the groups established to try to deal with these situations are overwhelmed. But this in not an American problem, this is a global one. People all over the world are cruel for reasons we will never truly understand. Children unfortunately get caught in that cycle all too often. If its not the abandoned children living on the streets in Brazil, or the starving children in African nations, then its the misaligned and brainwashed children of the Middle East who are convinced to become martyrs instead of playing with toys and learning to ride a bike.
    In the case of Christian it is a child caught in a family with some severe problems. Something happened to trigger this abuse, there was an event or an action that occurred that put the father onto this track of violence. What should be studied are those triggers that lead to this type of instance. Profilers use this type of information to predict actions of serial killers, murderers, and other criminals. Why not apply the same thing to child abuse. Maybe instead of being reactionary the solution is to look for these events or triggers and act upon them with counseling or more drastic action if mandated. I know its a long shot and probably a pipe dream but hey in the case of Christian it might have just been enough to have saved him since there was already a file with the Child Services. Maybe with a different set of tools they could have made a greater impact.

  3. christine lamarche

    the sistem (child services) need to be investergated,becouse i have reported abuse of a child and nothing happened.i made up to 5 reports and still nothing maybe it,s not the people who have made the call,but what child servers idea of abuse is.its a shame.

  4. JD-
    Thank you,thank you,thank you.

    Your thoughts resonate deeply at the core of the many same thoughts and feelings I have regarding this case and the many others that not revealed.
    The abuse is happening all around us.

    There is a great deal of ignorance in this world and truly it begins with the adults who can, by right conceive.
    We need a license to drive and one must pass a drug test before employment. Unfortunately anyone can concieve if having ovaries and a uterus. There are people who simply should not have children.

    This may sound harsh:
    I am convinced that individuals who have children and then abuse them should be sterilized. I know this sounds harsh but the mental, emotional toll, the hardship for these children not excluding the ones who have participated and witnessed is unbelievably-indescribable.
    The cost of this is a web of dysfunction to our society and our young. We never really know the effect this will have on abused children for years to come. The harsh seeds have been planted.
    Child abuse is domestic terrorism and REAL laws must be put in place.
    There should be a foundation solely for the development of world wide distribution to every house hold information about abuse. The signs, symptoms of children and personal information to individual caretakers / parents who feel they may be doing harm.
    First of all .. we need qualified .. i mean really qualified individuals to over see the broken system.
    I suggest we pay them well for their qualifications and hire people who have a big heart.. with thick skin. A police force just for children.
    I feel helpless too… I want to do more.

    I made a personal decision to get custody of a child because I could foresee his future would be greatly grim w/ abuse. It is the best decision I made. I fought for him.
    I may have not given birth to him. But as a friend said to me. YOU GAVE HIM A LIFE.

    Shame on people who turn away from their God given ability to use their conscious awareness to do the right thing. A simple phone call, clear questions or simply following their intuition.
    And though decisions may be hard and difficult.. if it is right based w/ love. IT IS SIMPLY THE RIGHT DECISION. Right decisions are some of the hardest decisions.
    Continue to write. I am glad I found you and will be sharing this article with everyone I know.

    Thank you JD!
    I pray your article goes viral.

  5. Dear HandsonDad,
    Thank you for writing this article. All the things you have thought have gone through my head also. I fantasize about saving precious little Christian, but the most overwhelming feeling I have from this story, besides horrible pain, is guilt. Where were we? Where was I?

  6. I have done searches since first hearing about the atrocities involving this adorable young man. I cannot think of a time I did not cry seeing his picture and ask myself the same thing, where was I? I lived half an hour away, my sister a teacher in a nearby community. I want to just hug him. I hate that some cases are so publicized and others just seem ignored. I hate even more that I am more haunted by his sweet face than the people that were entrusted to his well being.

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