In May of 2011, police in Gary, Indiana, received a tip from a woman who told them where they could find the body of a child who had been killed two years prior. They were directed to a mobile home park in the 5900 block of West 36th Avenue, where they made a distressing discovery. Buried underneath a layer of concrete in a shed was the body of 13-year-old Christian Choate. He had been murdered by his father, Riley Choate, and his stepmother, Kimberly Kubina, in 2009. Christian’s sister, Christina Choate, had mustered up the courage to confess what she knew about Christian’s death to her mother who then called police.
The discovery of Christian’s body revealed an ugly history of child abuse and neglect. In 2004, Christian’s mother, Aimee Eriks Estrada, lost custody of him and Christina after her live-in-boyfriend was accused of molesting them. Christian told authorities that his mother had also touched him inappropriately. Christian and Christina then moved in with their father, Riley Choate, his wife Kimberly Kubina, and several cousins and step-siblings despite the fact that in August of that year, Choate had also been accused of abusing his son. Investigators could not substantiate the abuse allegations but DCS officials did determine that Choate had physically abused Kubina’s nieces who were living with them at the time. The report cited “inappropriate discipline” and bruising on the two girls.1 As a result of the abuse, the nieces were removed from the home and placed in foster care for several months. However, they were then returned to the custody of Choate and Kubina, just in time for them to also be granted custody of Christian and Christina.
In total, twelve people lived in the cramped mobile home and things soon took a turn for the worse for young Christian.
Christian was the brunt of the abuse by both Choate and Kubina. Christian would be slapped, punched, kicked, and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. One punishment inflicted upon Christian was chaining his hands and feet to an upright bed frame. While chained to the bed frame, he would be punched, kicked, and beaten with a metal pole.2 In addition to the severe beatings he received, Christian was being systematically starved. Typically, he would be given ramen for breakfast and lunch and leftovers of what the family had for dinner. In a desperate bid to survive, Christian tried to steal food.
When he wasn’t being beaten, Christian was forced to live in a dog cage that Kubina purchased from their neighbour for $15. At times, his hands would be tied to the top of the cage and on one such occasion, Kubina spray painted his chained hands black as additional punishment. The only time Christian was allowed out of the cage was to clean the house. Christian wasn’t even allowed to use the bathroom and lived among his own excrement in the cage which was placed beside Choate’s computer. Day in and day out, Choate played video games as his son slowly deteriorated in a tiny cage beside him.
Christian would often ask why he couldn’t go outside and play with the other kids. The only thing he had access to as a form of preoccupation was paper and a pen. On these pieces of paper, Christian questioned why he was so hated and wrote that he desperately just wanted to be liked by his family. He wrote of his desire to die because nobody liked him and wrote about how hungry or thirsty he was. His writings detail a very sad and depressed child who wondered when somebody was going to come and check on him and give him some food or water.
The other children in the home said that they risked abuse themselves if they tried to help Christian. When they questioned why Christian was forced to live in a cage, Kubina responded: “Christian needs to be locked up. He’s a dog.” As if the abuse from the two people supposed to care for Christian wasn’t horrific enough, Christina later admitted that she too would sometimes hit her brother and on one occasion, she even choked him “until he turned blue.” She also admitted that she would slap her brother with an open hand when he didn’t do as she told him. She later told police that she risked being beaten herself if she did not get Christian to do as she told him. In an attempt to combat the bruising and swelling on Christian’s body from the beatings, Kubina instructed Christina to give Christian ice cold water baths which prompted his screams.3 As the beatings escalated and food was denied more frequently, Christian was forced to wear a diaper that was suitable for children of just four-years-old. Christian was so emaciated that the tiny diaper fit him.
In his cage, Christian lost his mind, his strength and ultimately, his humanity.
Shortly before his death in early 2009, Christian started to hallucinate and could barely walk due to being so weak. Christina recalled that she tried to feed him cereal but he was unable to chew or swallow. The same night, Choate became infuriated that Christian couldn’t eat and struck him “full force several times in the front, side and back of his head before throwing him back in the cage.”4
That night, Christian died alone in a dog cage.
After Christian’s murder, he was placed inside a plastic bag and taken to a shed adjacent to the family’s mobile home. Here, he was dumped into a grave and buried in concrete with a bible resting on his chest. Christian’s autopsy showed that he suffered blunt force trauma to his body, internal bleeding and a skull fracture. Christina later told authorities that Choate and Kubina had told her that Christian had molested another child living in the trailer and that was why he was kept in the cage. However, records show that no reports of molestation were ever reported by either Choate or Kubina.
“Nobody’s gonna miss him anyhow. We’ll just bury him,” said Choate when deciding of how to dispose of his son.5 And he was right. Two years would pass before authorities even knew that Christian was missing; Choate and Kubina had told neighbours and family that Christian had ran away, but they never filed a missing person report.
An investigation into the brutal murder revealed that Christian had a long history of involvement with child welfare authorities but sadly nobody intervened in time to save his life. In 2007, DCS were called to the Choates’ home after receiving complaints that there were ten children living in squalid conditions. Investigators cited one adult – a relative of Kubina – for medical neglect but they did not substantiate any of the other allegations. The following year, DCS were called to the home once again for the same reason. However, this time, the reported added that one child was living under “house arrest” for molesting another child. Again, these allegations were unsubstantiated. The following year, Christian told his paediatrician that he was being locked up at night. However, the paediatrician never thought to report this information to DCS.
Records also showed that Merrillville school officials had contacted Choate in regards to the number of days Christian had missed from school. Chris Foltz, the principal at Iddings Elementary School where Christian was a fourth-grader, had written to Choate and informed him that his son was missing too many days of school. “While most of these days are due to illness, the amount of days absent is excessive and it is difficult for him to keep up with his class work. He is also unable to receive his special education service when he is not here,” read part of the letter.6 Foltz urged Choate to call him to discuss Christian’s attendance and any health problems he may have been suffering from. However, a few days later, Choate withdrew Christian from the school, claiming they were going to home school him instead. Since state and local officials don’t monitor attendance or instruction for home-schooled students unless there is a complaint in the state of Indiana, Christian was quickly forgotten about by school officials.
Somehow, Christian slipped through the cracks. “It’s like this little boy fell off the face of the earth,” said Lake County sheriff’s Detective Michelle Weaver. Ultimately, the system designed to protect children failed Christian Choate.
On the 14th of December, 2012, Riley Choate pleaded guilty to a Class A felony neglect of a dependent causing death and two Class D felonies of moving a body from a death scene and depriving Christina an education in exchange for an 80 year prison sentence. In pleading guilty to those charges, Choate avoided a jury trial. “He trusted you to be the parent, and you failed him,” said Lake County Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell.7 Throughout the sentencing hearing, Choate showed no sign of emotion or remorse. By the time of the sentencing phase, Choate and Kubina had divorced. The divorce paved the way for Kubina to enter into a plea agreement to a lesser charge of child neglect. Kimberly Kubina was sentenced to 25 to 35 years in prison.
- The Times, 25 June, 2011 – “A Painful Life”
- News & Politics Examiner, 22 May, 2011 – “Christian Choate, 13: Boy Goes Missing For Two Years and No One Knows About It?”
- Post-Tribune, 11 May, 2011 – “Father, Stepmom Face Justice in Boy’s Death”
- Chicago Tribune, 26 May, 2011 – “’We Failed Him,’ Officials Say”
- Chicago CBS Local, 29 October, 2013 – “Father Who Killed Son: I Have Nightmares”
- The Times, 24 June, 2011 – “Records Indicate Christian Choate Missed Numerous Days of School”
- The Times, 12 January, 2013 – “Riley Choate Gets 80 Years”