CROWN POINT | The "tragic" death and disappearance of a 13-year-old Gary boy two years ago "fell through the cracks" until the boy's mother called 911 on Sunday, Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said.
"It's gruesome," he said. "It just doesn't make sense."
Police dug the body, believed to be Christian Choate, out of a shallow grave Wednesday night in a mobile home park north of Ridge Road and Colfax Avenue in Gary. Authorities are awaiting the results of DNA testing to confirm his identity.
Riley Choate, Christian's father, was charged Thursday with felony removal of a body from a death scene and misdemeanor counts of failure to notify authorities of the discovery of a dead body and failure to report a dead body, Lake Criminal Court records show. Police arrested the 39-year-old on Wednesday in Hammond.
The charges were announced Thursday during a news conference.
Buncich said detectives are investigating whether Riley Choate was involved with the death. He has not been charged with murder.
Kim Choate, who is Riley's wife and the dead boy's stepmother, is in custody on an unrelated warrant out of Kentucky but also is being questioned about the case, Buncich said. Kim's last name also appears as Kubina in some recent court records.
The body shows evidence of blunt force trauma and internal bleeding, according to a statement coroner's investigators gave to police. The skull also was fractured.
Riley told Lake County police he moved his son's dead body from a mobile home to a shed across the street, put a Bible on his chest, sprinkled lime on the body to aid decomposition, covered the body in a blanket and plastic, and buried it in a shallow grave before covering it with concrete.
"A tragic series of things occurred that should have never occurred," Buncich said Thursday during a news conference about the case.
The Indiana Department of Child Services has an open assessment relating to the case and is working with police, DCS spokeswoman Ann Houseworth said.
Riley and Kim Choate married in 1999 in Christian County, Ky., according to public records. It's not clear when they moved back to the region.
Riley Choate had two children from a previous relationship: Christian and an older daughter. The Times is not releasing the name of the boy's sister because she is still a juvenile.
Riley and Kim Choate and the children lived in a mobile home in Gary until Christian's death in April 2009, Buncich said. After Christian died, Kim Choate and Christian's sister moved to Kentucky, Buncich said.
The investigation into the boy's death began Sunday when Christian's sister called their mother, Aimee Estrada, who still lives in Lake County, and told her Christian was dead. Estrada called 911, Buncich said.
It is not clear why it took two years for Christian's death to be reported.
Riley Choate told neighbors and family that the boy ran away from home. He was never reported missing to authorities.
Estrada told police she left Riley because he was abusive and said she hadn't seen her children since 2004 or 2005. Buncich said she gave up custody of her children around that time.
Burying the body
Christian's sister found him dead on a baby mattress in early April 2009 and told her stepmother, Kim, who told her to give the boy CPR, Lake Criminal Court records state.
The girl tried to revive her brother, but he was already dead, court records state.
Riley Choate told Lake County police that he and Kim Choate wrapped his body in two plastic garbage bags and put the body in a tote that was put in the back of a van, along with several other totes, court records state. Riley Choate also told police his daughter helped move the body.
They drove to her grandmother's residence on the same block and put the body inside, records state.
A couple of days later, Christian's sister saw her father and stepmother return home covered in mud, court records state. Kim Choate said they poured concrete over the boy's body "so he couldn't get out," police said.
Kim Choate hasn't been charged in connection with Christian's death. Buncich said he expects additional charges soon.
Lake County detectives are heading to Kentucky to speak with others about the case "to determine if they're suspects," Buncich said.
Riley Choate told police he buried the boy with a Bible and a cross and burned the boy's clothing.
Police found the cross and Bible when they exhumed the remains Wednesday night.