GARY | Seeing her brother locked up in a cage isn't what disturbed 15-year-old Christina Choate two years ago -- she was used to seeing him curled up in what used to be a dog cage.
Terror struck her when she realized her 13-year-old brother wasn't breathing.
Christina Choate, now 17, said Monday in an interview with The Times that she was the one who periodically checked on her brother, Christian Choate, who was confined to the cage for about a year before he died.
Their father, Riley Choate, kept a lock on the cage because he didn't want Christian to run away, the girl said.
"(He was let out) to use the bathroom and to eat," Christina Choate said.
In April 2009, Christina Choate found her brother unresponsive.
"I put my finger underneath his nose and he was not breathing," she said.
After she made the harrowing discovery, she scrambled to find the key to the Master Lock that kept her brother trapped. She pulled him out of the cage and put her ear to his chest desperately trying to find a heartbeat.
"I couldn't hear anything," she said.
Then, she asked for help from her stepsister, who in turn called adults for help.
As they waited for adults to come home, Christina Choate frantically tried to revive her brother. She pumped his chest and used an electric air pump to try to get him air.
"I kept thinking, 'Oh my God, my brother is dead,'" she said.
Riley Choate came home and wrapped the boy's body in plastic bags, she said. Then he instructed his daughter to help him load the body into a vehicle, court documents allege.
Riley Choate was charged Thursday with one count of removing a body from a death scene, a Class D felony. He also was charged with two misdemeanor offenses: one count of failure to notify authorities of the discovery of a body and one count of failure to report a death.
Additional charges are expected to be released sometime today, Lake County officials said. Choate is expected in court for an initial hearing today. He is being held in the Lake County Jail. Officials declined comment Monday on Christina Choate's account of her brother's death and burial.
The series of events of that day are vividly burned into her memory.
Riley Choate told police he drove his son's body across the street and buried him 2 feet beneath a layer of lime, dirt and concrete with the help of his daughter.
But Christina Choate said she did not help bury her brother. She admits she helped put him into the van because her father made her.
Investigators unearthed on Wednesday what is believed to be Christian's body. The Lake County coroner is awaiting DNA identification, which could take weeks.
The preliminary autopsy showed the body recovered suffered blunt force trauma, with internal bleeding and a skull fracture, according to court documents.
Christina Choate said she will never forget watching Christian endure brutal beatings from Riley Choate. She also can recall how fear forced her to keep it all a secret.
"I knew I would be next," she said.
Her father moved her to Kentucky with her stepmother and half-siblings after Christian's death. She said she wasn't allowed to go to school, talk on the phone or live anything resembling the life of a regular teenage girl.
About three weeks ago, Riley Choate moved back to Indiana, without her.
"I didn't really care if he left," she said.
She stayed with her stepmother, Kim Choate.
"I didn't talk to anyone (about Christian)," she said.
Then, she felt safe enough to tell someone what had happened to her brother.
"I told a family member that it was really bothering me so I just told that person, and I finally felt safe because I know that person wouldn't let anything happen to me," she said.
A person whom the girl indicated is her guardian gave her permission to speak to The Times.
Her statements last week launched the police investigation that led to the recovery of the remains, relieving the girl of the secret she held inside for so long.
"I know my brother can get a proper burial now where people can go up to him," she said. "And (they can) see where he's at and not have to be wondering if he's in some hole."
But even with her father behind bars, Christina Choate can't help feeling scared.
"I hope he doesn't get out," she said.