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Chris' Story

I stepped out of the limousine and began walking across the clean cut grass. People gathered, some walking hand in hand, others standing at a distance. The cars continued to file in, one by one. They parked and their occupants moved toward the freshly dug gravesite. As I glanced toward my right, I saw the beautiful royal blue coffin, carried by eight pall bearers all under the age of 14. The sight of it buckled my knees and the funeral director saved me from falling to the ground as he held my arm and guided me to the graveside.

I told him to be home on time. I told him not to talk to strangers, and I told him not to take a ride from anyone. I’m a good mom. I told him… I told him…so why am I now burying my 10-year-old son?

I told him to be home on time. I told him not to talk to strangers, and I told him not to take a ride from anyone. I’m a good mom. I told him… I told him…so why am I now burying my 10-year-old son?

Christopher Richard Meyer arrived in this world a whopping 10 1/2 pounds. He was a happy baby and even happier toddler. As he grew, he developed a compassion and understanding of others and an even deeper caring for animals. He could often be found climbing a tree to put a baby bird back in a nest. He would make me stop if he saw an injured animal on the side of the road. He could make friends with anyone or anything. Many people would say that he was an old soul. That he had been around before.

In 1995, Chris was 10 1/2 years old. We lived in the small village of Aroma Park, Illinois, just outside of the town of Kankakee. Around noon on August 7, 1995, Chris asked me if he and his brother James could ride their bikes down to the boat launch and fishing hole by the river with the other neighborhood children. It was only a couple blocks from the house and this was the place all the local kids would hang out in this village of 700 people. I told them to be back by 5:00 o’clock so they could get cleaned up for dinner.

This was a typical summer day with the stifling heat and humidity of the Midwest. So often in the summer the bright green leaves on the trees would remain motionless, waiting for the slightest breeze to rustle them. Each day my children would run in and out of the house with other neighborhood kids, scurrying back and forth between building forts in the back yard to performing card tricks for each other in the living room to hanging out at the river, fishing and playing and swimming. This day was no different.

I love being a mother. I love every moment, from the pregnancy to changing diapers and wiping noses to tucking them in bed at night.

Chris and his older brother took off to the river, my daughter, Cari and her friend played a game in the living room and my two-year-old scampered between bothering his sister and wanting to be held by me. I love being a mother. I love every moment, from the pregnancy to changing diapers and wiping noses to tucking them in bed at night.

Around 3:30, James came home by himself. He said that he was hot and tired and wanted to be home. He said Chris was still playing with his friends.

When I next glanced at the clock it was 5:05 p.m. and I was frustrated. Chris knew that I was adamant about him being home on time or before. I voiced my annoyance and my daughter chimed in with, “Quit worrying Mom, he will be home any minute.” I continued with making dinner and had Cari and James set the table. At 5:22 p.m. I felt an overwhelming fear and panic come over my body. It was as if someone had punched me in the stomach, knocking all of the air from me. I had this incredible need to rush out of the house and find him.

I went to the boat launch and searched for him. I hurried back home, thinking perhaps we had crossed paths. Again, he was still not there. The panic continued to mount. I was frantic. My motherly instinct was in full gear. I went back to the boat launch by the fishing hole and a couple of the kids said he left at least an hour earlier.

Without being able to pinpoint the exactly what this knot in my stomach was, I knew something was terribly wrong. I went to our local market and the bait and tackle shop. Nobody had seen him come in that day. I drove up and down the few streets in our little community thinking I might spot him or his bike and all this worrying would be for naught. By now it was nearly 7:00 and I knew I had to contact the county sheriff to report him missing.

“Let us know when he gets home so we can take him out of the computer. He is probably playing at a friend’s house and lost track of time.”

Two officers came to our house and took a report. “What was he wearing? Where did he normally go play? What time was he supposed to be home? Did we have a fight? Was he mad? Do I think he ran away? Has he been late before? Who are his friends? Where do they live? Have I checked my entire house?” All of these were questions easily answered, but I became frustrated that they didn’t seem to take my concern serious. They proceeded to tell me, as they walked toward my front door, “Let us know when he gets home so we can take him out of the computer. He is probably playing at a friend’s house and lost track of time.” I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know what they meant by “take him out of the computer,” yet their lack of frenzied concern made me think they knew better and this was just a false alarm.

I decided I had to take matters into my own hands. By now it was after 8:00 and beginning to get dark. I drove back to the river and started walking into the woods next to the boat launch. I knew that Chris and the other kids would play in the trees. I was telling myself that he had climbed a tree and couldn’t get down, he fell asleep next to a tree, he was playing with someone and lost track of time and was afraid to come home so late. My mind was racing.

Our local village police officer was in the parking lot talking to some teens in a car. He called after me, wondering why I was going into the woods at dusk. I explained the situation and he immediately got on his radio and began calling in support. Soon the search and rescue teams and dogs arrived. The Fire department set up a truck and large flood light in the parking lot, shining on the woods. Neighbors and others in the community began to gather, onlookers and friends, kids and adults.

After speaking with other adults and children that were at the boat launch when Chris was there, it was discovered that they had seen Chris and the other kids talking to an unknown man. Chris asked a friend what time it was and his friend told him 4:15. He said he was going home, got on his bike and the man then got in his car drove out of the parking lot as Chris rode off.

The search began to grow. County Law Enforcement arrived, more fire departments, more searchers. I remember standing in the parking lot with a wonderful County officer watching as each searcher came out of the woods, knowing they would be coming out with Chris and this chaos would end. The moments ticked by, night turning into morning.

Many of our friends began to gather at our house. We started piecing together a flyer. Friends made copies and began to distribute it around town, placing it on windshields, store fronts, handing it out to shoppers in neighboring communities and going door to door. I called the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. They said they would send me a packet to fill out and mail back.

Hour by hour the searching continued. Some searchers thought he might have fallen into the river and had been swept downstream. However, as each day passed, the searchers found different items in different locations.

Two days after his disappearance I was called down to the fire department. There was a glimmer of hope that raced through my body as I imagined his toothy grin and pale blonde hair sitting there waiting to see me and then my nightmare would be over.

Two days after his disappearance I was called down to the fire department. There was a glimmer of hope that raced through my body as I imagined his toothy grin and pale blonde hair sitting there waiting to see me and then my nightmare would be over.

However, my need to be summoned to the fire department was because a bike was found, hidden among some trees and brush across the river. They asked me to identify it as Christopher’s. I sank to my knees, realizing that the bike was his…with its muddy tires and broken speedometer. Then, moments later a diver brought in one of his shoes. It was found floating in the river about a mile downstream. The following day his other shoe was found 4 miles away. And then pieces of his shirt and his underwear were found in a wooded area about 20 miles away.

The police had constructed a composite sketch of information gathered from the other children and witnesses that saw the man talking to kids at the boat launch. They also had a description of the car that they had seen this man drive out of the parking area after Chris left on his bike.

Within two days of Christopher’s disappearance, the county sheriff received information that a recently released murderer was living in a nearby city and that he had been in our community to attend his sister’s wedding. He had grown up in the area. He had been in prison for murdering five-year old Tara Sue Huffman in our community in 1981. He was 13 years old at the time of Tara Sue’s death, but was tried as an adult. He had been found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was paroled after serving 12 years of the 25-year sentence. He was living in Florida for a while, then moved back to our area in May of 1995.

Late on August 9th the Police staked out a motel after a clerk called in a tip, when she realized that a man that just checked into her motel looked like the composite sketch as well as the car that was described in the composite. The following day they watched as he placed his boots in a dumpster and followed him as he drove to another area of the river and began talking to yet another boy. The police asked to talk to him at the station and he agreed, following the police car back into town. He allowed a search of his car and the police found that the carpet in the trunk was soaked with blood. He was arraigned the following day. By now Chris had been missing for 4 days.

As each second ticked by it seemed like an eternity. I vaguely remember staring out my windows, watching the neighborhood children on their bikes waiting for Chris to ride by on his. And why were they happy? How could anybody laugh or joke or smile? My entire being was consumed by making the pain go away. I kept thinking, “When am I going to wake up?”

As each second ticked by it seemed like an eternity. I vaguely remember staring out my windows, watching the neighborhood children on their bikes waiting for Chris to ride by on his. And why were they happy? How could anybody laugh or joke or smile? My entire being was consumed by making the pain go away. I kept thinking, “When am I going to wake up?”

On August 15, 1995, eight days after riding his bike away from home, my doorbell rang at 3:00 a.m. The lead investigator on the case, Jo Mulcahy, stood at my door. She stepped into my house, we sat down on the couch and I looked into her beautiful eyes. She reached to hold my hand and informed me that a child’s body had been found. As her eyes began to glisten with tears, she said that they couldn’t confirmed that it was Chris. However, I knew that there were no other children missing and in time, through forensics and autopsy, it was determined to be him. His body was badly decomposed and buried in a shallow grave. He had been stabbed over 50 times and his genitals brutally cut from his small body. His hands had defensive wounds on them, which showed that he had fought trying to protect himself.

The killer was found guilty and this time sentenced to death. However, in 2002, former Illinois governor George Ryan placed a moratorium on the death penalty and commuted all sentences to life. He continues to serve his sentence at Menard Prison in Southern Illinois. (I prefer not to give energy to the killer by mentioning his name).

Once the terror and all-consuming grief had begun to subside, I knew that I couldn’t just sit and wallow in self-pity. I was angry that my son had been taken in such a violent manner. I was angry that the justice system had let a monster like that out of prison. I was angry that I didn’t at least get to say good-bye. I realized though, that anger is a powerful energy. I decided to re-direct that energy into something positive. I knew that I couldn’t even think about anybody else having to suffer the tremendous grief and pain that I had suffered. I wanted to make a difference and find a way to turn these tragic events into a constructive outcome.

Over the years I have begun to meet so many wonderful parents that have lived my same nightmare. We cry together and laugh together. Some are advocates and others suffer silently in their grief.

Because losing a child is something you can never imagine, before or after it happens.

I never imagined I could become one of the parents I had heard about on the news. I don’t suppose they ever thought they would either. The pain we feel is indescribable yet we all know exactly how each other feels. Because losing a child is something you can never imagine, before or after it happens.

 

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