GARY | The kindness of strangers continues to honor the memory of Christian Eriks Choate, a 13-year-old boy whose short life was consumed by the agony of his father’s extreme cruelty.
On Friday, All Saints Day, a headstone featuring a porcelain photo of a smiling Christian was dedicated at Ridgelawn Cemetery, the child’s final resting place, thanks to the fundraising efforts of Pat Breslin, of Washington state.
Breslin, a family therapist, learned about Christian’s fate from stories on the Internet starting in 2011. Those online stories helped Breslin connect with Sheila Kirby, executive director for Ridgelawn Funeral Home, and Linda Hanson, a funeral director. The cemetery and funeral home staff donated Christians’ funeral expenses, casket and vault in September 2012.
Christian’s severely malnourished, abused body was unearthed from a shallow grave beneath a shed at Colfax Mobile Home Park in the Black Oak section of Gary in May 2011.
The boy died after beatings, starvation and imprisonment in a small dog cage. His body lay at the Lake County coroner’s office for nearly 18 months while his father, Riley Choate, and his stepmother, Kimberly Kubina, were prosecuted.
In January, Riley Choate, 40, was sentenced to 80 years in prison for felony neglect of a dependent causing death and two felonies that included moving a body from a death scene. Kubina, 47, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for felony neglect of a dependent in February.
“When I read about the funeral in September (2012), I called Ridgelawn Cemetery and talked with Sheila and I asked if there was anything I could do. They were very supportive,” Breslin said.
In December, Kirby contacted Breslin to let her know that a memorial marker would be welcomed.
To help raise the funds needed for the $2,000 headstone, Breslin said she turned to the Stillaguamish Tribe of Native American with tribal headquarters in Arlington, Wash.
“Without batting an eye, they stepped forward and said yes,” said Breslin, whose friends made it possible for her to fly in Thursday afternoon for Friday’s dedication.
“There’s that picture of him (in the online stories) with his smile and his sad eyes,” she said, brushing a tear from her cheek.
“It just touched my heart. I was just overwhelmed by his story,” said Breslin, as she stood by the child’s grave. “He feels like kin to me.”
Surrounded by flowers and a pumpkin, the memorial marker reads “Forever in Our Hearts My Beloved Son, Our Brother & Grandson, Christian Eriks” with his birth date of Dec. 27, 1995, and “In Heaven 2009.” Eriks is his biological mother’s name as well as the name of his maternal grandparents.
Linda Latham, of Ridgelawn Cemetery, etched the headstone with figures of an angel and a car to honor Christian’s love of Hot Wheel cars.
The Rev. Steve Kosinski, of All Saints Church in Hammond, officiated at the dedication ceremony, which also was attended by Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey, Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and Christians’ grandfather Bernard Eriks, of Gary.