Christian Choate wanted to die.
The 13-year-old boy, whose body Lake County police unearthed last month from a shallow grave in Gary, wrote letters before his death detailing how he was being mistreated, how he just wanted to be liked by his family -- and how he wanted to die.
Christian died in early 2009 of blunt force trauma injuries and a skull fracture, according to the Lake County coroner's office.
The boy's father and stepmother, Riley Choate and Kimberly Kubina Choate, face myriad charges relating to Christian's death, including murder, felony counts of battery, confinement and removing a body from a death scene or altering a death scene, three felony counts of obstruction of justice and three felony counts of neglect of a dependent, Lake Criminal Court records show.
Indiana Department of Child Services records released Friday reveal a history of abuse and neglect by adults who were supposed to be protecting Christian.
A painful life
The boy's short life was marked by allegations of family members physically and sexually abusing him and other underage relatives, DCS records show.
DCS officials investigated eight allegations of physical and sexual abuse, molestation and educational and medical neglect in various homes that Choate family members lived in before Christian's death, records show.
Some of those allegations were made before Christian was born or before he lived in the home.
Riley Choate was accused of abusing Christian in August 2004 -- a year before Riley Choate was given custody of Christian and his sister, Christina, DCS records state. Investigators could not substantiate the abuse allegations.
But DCS officials did determine in August 2004 that Riley Choate physically abused his wife's nieces, who were living with them. Riley Choate was cited for "inappropriate discipline" and bruises on the two girls, DCS records state.
As a result, Kimberly Kubina Choate's nieces were placed in foster care for more than three months. They returned to the Choates' home in December 2004.
In August 2005, Lake Juvenile Court officials also granted Riley Choate custody of Christian and Christina, children he had with Aimee Eriks Estrada.
Eriks Estrada lost custody of Christian and Christina amid accusations that either she or her live-in boyfriend were molesting Christian and two other children. DCS officials substantiated neglect and lack of supervision against Eriks Estrada.
They substantiated abuse against her live-in boyfriend, but he never was criminally charged. The Times is not naming him because he was not charged.
It is unclear from DCS records why Riley Choate -- a convicted felon and known abuser -- was given custody of Christian and Christina instead of placing the children with another relative or in foster care.
Lake Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura could not be reached Friday afternoon for comment.
DCS records show her court granted Riley Choate custody, and Eriks Estrada was allowed supervised visits with the children.
DCS spokeswoman Ann Houseworth said the state agency does not get involved in custody battles but could be called to offer recommendations. She could not say whether DCS investigators were asked to offer recommendations in this case.
Allegations of misdeeds by Riley Choate and Kimberly Kubina Choate continued after the couple secured custody of Christian and Christina, DCS records show.
A cry for help
In 2007, DCS officials were called to the Choates' home to investigate claims that there were 10 children living with them and that the home was dirty.
Investigators cited one adult -- a relative of Kubina Choate -- for medical neglect but did not substantiate any of the other allegations.
In 2008, DCS officials met with the family again while it was living in a mobile home park in Gary. Officials were asked to investigate allegations that at least 10 children were living in the home, one of whom was under what the family called "house arrest" for molesting another child. The allegations were unsubstantiated.
After Christian's body was discovered in May, family members told investigators Christian had molested one of his younger relatives, records show. None of the family members reported the allegation while Christian was alive, DCS records show.
In March 2008, Christian told his pediatrician he was getting locked up at night, medical records show. The doctor never reported it to DCS, according to agency records.
The doctor declined comment Friday when contacted at home. The doctor no longer works for the Highland medical practice where medical records indicate Christian was a patient.
The last contact DCS officials had with Christian was in 2008, the summer before he is believed to have died. Investigators could not substantiate the allegations made against the family.
Letters Christian wrote while locked in a cage detail the mistreatment DCS investigators couldn't find.
In his own words
The boy's letters, which DCS investigators read after his death, paint a disturbing picture of what the boy's life was like before his death in early 2009.
"Christian's writings detail a very sad, depressed child who often wondered when someone, anyone, was going to come check on him and give him food or liquid," DCS records state.
Court documents allege the boy was beaten for several years and kept in a cage for as long as a year before his death in early 2009. His disappearance went unreported until May, when a tip prompted police to investigate.
In documents released Friday, Christian wrote of how often he had to steal food or use the bathroom in his place of confinement. He said he would be let out to clean or vacuum but had to go back inside immediately afterward, DCS records state.
He wrote about other children playing outside while he was confined inside. If he asked for something to do, he was given paper and a pencil, DCS records state.
Some of Christian's writings were random, while others appeared to be assignments from his stepmother, Kimberly Kubina Choate.
Kubina Choate wrote topics on top of some of the pages including, "Why do you want to play with your peter? Why do you still want to see your mom? Why can't you let the past go? What does it mean to be part of a family?" DCS records state.
Analyzing the system
State and local investigators now are trying to determine if and how the system failed to save him.
DCS spokeswoman Ann Houseworth said the state agency followed all Indiana laws and DCS policies and procedures in investigating the many allegations made against Christian's family.
"With regard to this case, DCS did everything it legally could to ensure the well-being of these children at the time of our interactions with the family," she said.
Houseworth said investigators will continue to try to identify opportunities to improve their processes. They already have determined one area that can be improved, she said.
She said DCS workers began training in 2007 on a procedure through which families can bring extended family members, friends and neighbors together to work on the issues that brought DCS into their lives.
Houseworth said DCS likely will identify other improvements as it continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding Christian's death.