More than 13 people may have known of alleged abuse endured by Christian Choate before his 2009 death, but most said nothing to authorities, a Times review of Indiana Department of Child Services records shows.
Only one adult claims to have brought her concerns to law enforcement. The rest appear to have kept silent -- some claiming fear, others because they allegedly were the ones hurting the boy.
Lake County police unearthed Christian's body in May 2011 from a shallow grave in Gary. The coroner's office later determined the 13-year-old boy died of blunt force trauma injuries and a skull fracture.
Court documents allege Christian was beaten for several years and kept in a cage for as long as a year before his death in early 2009. Christian's disappearance went unreported until May 2011, when a tip prompted a police investigation.
The Times examined what those closest to Christian knew and the reasons why they claim they kept silent.
Riley Choate and Kimberly Kubina
Christian's father and stepmother, Riley Choate and Kimberly Kubina, face myriad charges relating to the boy's death, including murder, felony counts of battery, confinement and removing a body from a death scene.
Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges in Lake Criminal Court.
Riley Choate admitted burying Christian's body under a storage shed but did not admit causing the boy's death, court records state. He said he panicked when his daughter called him at work to say Christian was dead.
"If I had to do it over, I'd have just called," he told police. "But I was freaking out."
Kubina repeatedly has denied any wrongdoing, court and Indiana Department of Child Services records show. She told police she thought Christian had gone to live with his biological mother.
But when interviewed after Christian died, Riley Choate and Kubina's family members told police and DCS investigators a different story about how the pair treated Christian.
For several years prior to Christian's death, his sister, Christina Choate, watched as her brother was beaten by their father and stepmother, she contends. But Christina Choate also found herself abusing the boy as well, she said in an earlier interview with The Times.
"Kim (Kubina) and Riley both (told me to hit him)," she said during that interview. "And I did it because if I didn't listen to them I was going to get beat."
Christian's plight began shortly after Riley Choate gained custody of the two children in 2005, Christina said.
Much of the animosity in the home was attributed to rumors that Christian had sexually molested one of his siblings, Christina said.
In 2008, DCS officials investigated allegations that there was a 12-year-old boy in the Choate home who was "on house arrest for something to do with molesting a child." The abuse never was substantiated, DCS records state.
Belinda Bradburn and Rachelle Kubina
Belinda Bradburn lived in the trailer next door as Christian's life came to an end. Bradburn, who is Kimberly Kubina's sister, initially told police she believed Christian had run away and denied she ever saw the boy being abused, according to records in the case.
Later, she told investigators she could hear the sounds of Riley Choate punching and slapping Christian.
Bradburn told The Times she witnessed abuse on one occasion, when she was visiting her sister and the children when they lived in Merrillville. She said she saw Riley Choate hit Christian in the arm.
"When that happened, I just said, 'Kim, I'm leaving. This is kind of ridiculous that he would just hit a kid, and you need to do something about this,' " Bradburn said.
Bradburn admitted she never notified the authorities or did anything to intervene on Christian's behalf, DCS records state.
She said she didn't notify police because she wasn't sure if he was being physically abused regularly.
Rachelle Kubina, Kimberly Kubina's oldest child, lived with Christian from 2005, when Riley Choate gained custody, until the boy's death in 2009.
Initially, she told detectives she believed Christian had run away in 2009 and that she had never seen anyone mistreat the boy.
In an interview just days later, Rachelle Kubina told investigators she had witnessed Riley Choate beating Christian before he "ran away or went missing," court documents state.
Later documents allege Rachelle Kubina was present the day Christian was discovered dead and called her aunt to notify the family of the boy's death.
Rachelle Kubina did not return calls from The Times for comment.
Jessica Hamby and her children
Other children who lived in the home at various times also witnessed the violence but kept quiet when asked about their home lives, according to DCS records and witnesses in the case.
Three children witnessed ongoing alleged abuse of Christian, their mother Jessica Hamby said. Hamby is a sister of Kimberly Kubina.
One of Hamby's children thought about telling someone about the situation and even wrote about it in her diary, court records state.
But the child kept the matter concealed because Kimberly Kubina told the girl if she disclosed the situation to anyone "she would do to her what she did to Christian," court records state. The child told her mother that fear kept her from saying anything to anyone -- even after they moved to Kentucky, according to Hamby.
DCS officials removed two of Hamby's children from the Choate household in 2004 after officials substantiated allegations of abuse in the home. Several other children lived there at that time but were allowed to remain in the home.
The two children were returned to the Choate household shortly after they were removed, Hamby said.
At that time, Hamby said she was addicted to methamphetamines and depended on family members to help her raise her children.
During the 2004 investigation, Hamby's two children indicated "everyone is afraid of him," referring to Riley Choate, who was accused of choking the children and whipping them with a leather belt, DCS records state.
Lori Wingard, a former neighbor, said she knew something was wrong across the street when she lived in the mobile home park in Gary.
She said she called DCS twice to report allegations of child abuse and neglect by the Choate family.
DCS records support the agency received and investigated both allegations.
But Wingard challenges the part of the record that says a DCS caseworker went inside the Choate home to inspect the family's living situation.
Wingard, 49, now of DeMotte, said she remembers watching the DCS official when she visited the home in 2008.
"She never even stepped foot in the house," Wingard said. "Kim came out of the house and stood there at the sidewalk and talked to the lady, and I just remember thinking, 'Go inside.' "
DCS officials could not comment Friday on Wingard's account because of a gag order issued last week by Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell.
As news began to break about Christian's death, Wingard said she felt sick for selling the family the dog cage that allegedly was used to confine the boy.
"There are so many people that are involved that could have helped that little boy and didn't," she said. "I tried, and nothing was done."