GARY | The tiniest hint of closure was brought to a family of sisters Thursday as the women visited the spot where their nephew's body had been dug up just the day before.
Kristin Serrata, four of her sisters, their mother and a few other close friends went to the shallow grave site in the Gary mobile home park where investigators dug up the presumed body of their beloved friend and family member, Christian Choate.
"(We) had gone over to the shed where they had found him, and we laid flowers back there," she said. "It was bad. It was hard, and I still I can't believe it."
Christian, who officials believe was about 13 years old, died about two years ago and was buried 2 feet beneath a shed and a layer of concrete, authorities said.
Serrata, 25, sister to Aimee Estrada, Christian's biological mother, said she received the call Wednesday night that her nephew's body had been unearthed.
"I felt sad," the Dyer woman said. "I felt like I could barely breathe. But I kind of felt a little relief that he was found. At this point, we knew that he was gone, and we just wanted him home."
She recalled her nephew's fondness for wrestling, Hot Wheels toys and the movie "Toy Story." During the last time she had seen him, about six years ago, he was playing with action figures.
She also remembers the first time she saw her nephew, when she was about 10 years old. Her sister had just brought him home from the hospital after he was born.
"I remember how I thought he was so cute," she said. "He was a sweet baby, and I wanted to hold him all the time. And I wanted to do everything for him."
But when Christian's mother's relationship turned sour with Riley Choate, the boy's father, Serrata was less than mature enough to intervene.
If she could do it all over again, she said she would have pushed harder to get time with her nephew and his sister after their mother reportedly lost custody to Riley Choate.
"(If I could go back), I would try harder no matter how young I was," she said. "I was only 19 the last time I saw them, and I couldn't do anything to try and help."
Serrata said all of Christian's family members feel regret and remorse for letting the situation linger on for so long.
"We're all saying, 'Why didn't we just try harder?'" she said. "We feel guilty, and we feel awful."
Other people who knew the boy also were at a loss as to what could have been done. Belinda Bradburn considered Christian a nephew rather than a step-relative.
She described him Wednesday as "shy" and "sweet."
"He was always a shy kid. He wasn't rambunctious, bouncing off walls. He was a good kid," Bradburn said.
Bradburn is the sister of Kim Choate, who was living with Riley Choate at the time of Christian's death and is being held in Lake County on an unrelated warrant out of Kentucky.
Riley Choate has been charged with a felony and two misdemeanors related to moving the boy's body at the mobile home park in Gary's Black Oak neighborhood.
"He wasn't a bad kid. He was a sweet kid. He liked video games, Pokemon stuff. ... He was a typical, normal boy," Bradburn said.
Bradburn lived one mobile home over when Christian allegedly was killed two years ago. She had been told the boy went to live with his mother. Riley Choate also had told others he took Christian to his mother's house, according to the probable cause affidavit.
But the coroner's preliminary autopsy shows the child suffered blunt force trauma to his body, internal bleeding and a skull fracture. Officials said he died in the mobile home where he was living.
And police said Riley Choate admitted that he buried his son's body across the street from where the boy once lived and played volleyball with neighborhood children.
"All of my sisters love him and cared for him, and this has hurt us," Serrata said. "We've all said out loud that we're sorry that this happened and that he didn't deserve it. No child does."