Christian Eriks’ Influence Strong, In Tribute, In Death
November 1, 2013 — A young boy who died at the hands of his abusive father finally has a proper memorial.
The discovery of Christian Choate’s remains in a Gary mobile home park in 2011 shocked the Region. His body now lies at a Gary cemetary where a life too short received a permanent tribute today.
Friends, family and total strangers attended a special ceremony at Ridgelawn Cemetery for Christian Choate, also known as Christian Eriks, a boy who died of abuse in 2009.
Steve Kosinski shared an unifying sentiment, “Christian, my name is Steve. I’m a Catholic priest in Hammond. I, like many others, were told by people this is our business.”
Christian’s story became public in 2011, when his body was unearthed from a shallow grave near his family’s former home in Gary. An investigation revealed shocking details of the boy’s life. His father and stepmother beat and starved Christian, even locking him in a dog cage as punishment until his beating death.
Christian’s story touched people across the country, including Patricia Breslin, who read about it on the internet from her home in Washington state, “I was heartbroken, I was so sad, and when I saw his face, this picture on the internet, he just really really touched my heart.”
Breslin wasted no time in reaching out to the funeral home which was in charge of Christian’s memorial, where Shelia Kirby is executive funeral director, “She was in contact with us as soon as Christian was unearthed in 2011. Right away, she got in contact. Her demeanor was, ‘What can I do?’ We at the funeral home did tell her, “Hang tight, there is a trial going on. We’re unable to bury him right away, but I’m sure he’s gonna need help with a headstone later.’ He was buried September of 2012, after the trial was over. He was unfortunately kept at the coroner’s office for 18 months. As soon as he was buried in September we had our contacts with Pat.”
Breslin spent nearly a year raising the $2,000 needed to purchase Christian’s tombstone. While many were willing to help, Breslin said some people simply didn’t want to hear the details of Christian’s story, “I even went to one church where they thought I was making it up. They went on the internet and checked it out, and they said come back, we’ll talk to you, ‘cause I was gonna do a fundraiser at that church, and I was shocked when he said we just take care of our own. Well, he didn’t say it like that, but that was the gist of it, and I thought, ‘He is our own.’ I think sometimes people think, ‘This is my community, we worry about here, we don’t have to worry about anybody else,’ but Christian is our own.”
Today’s ceremony dedicated a granite slab featuring a race car and a photo of Christian.
His maternal grandfather Bernard Eriks still felt the loss of Christian, “Today is the final page so we can finally put closure to all of this.”
Eriks also shared one of his favorite memories of his grandson, “When he learned to ride his bike, I told my daughter take him over there, and I’ll be over soon. She came back right away, and he was already riding the bike. Took two tries.”
Reporter Holst: “Smart kid?”
Eriks: “Very smart kid.”
While today’s service was devoted to Christian, many people in attendance felt compelled to discuss events that led to his death. His father, Riley Choate, and stepmother, Kimberly Kubina, are each serving lengthy jail sentences for their part in Christian’s death.
Stephen Pabey says he has been friends with Christian’s family for years. He says the problems began when custody was taken away from Christian’s mother, Aimee Estrada, “She has no criminal history whatsoever, she’s never been in trouble with drugs or anything. She hired two lawyers, went broke trying to fight for this kid, could get no help from nowhere, and they handed this kid over to a monster with a record a mile long, and we see the tragedy in the end.”
Pabey says Estrada did not know Christian was being abused, “She was not aware of that. She knew that Riley was a loose cannon. There were questions there which was why she wanted to get him back, but she couldn’t do anything.”
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich says this case has bothered him because, “The system failed this child, that nobody called attention to the fact that there was a young child that needed help, and that he was suffering for such a long period of time.”
As Christian is finally given a proper memorial, those people close to the case are still looking for ways to prevent a tragedy like this from happening to another family.
Breslin asks, “Just be more mindful regarding the community. The children are our children, and they’re our future. Sometimes we gotta step outside of our comfort zone and say, ‘Hey, that’s not ok.’”
Eriks echoes her plea, “People in the neighborhood just keep an eye on the kids. See if there’s anything different, and check on them once in awhile. Make sure nothing doesn’t happen again to anyone.”
Pabey advocates action, “The minute Riley went to file, they should have really done a background report on him and pulled up everything that was going on. They should have done more searching before they just handed that kid over to anybody.”
Sheriff Buncich wants stronger laws to enforce, “Hopefully steps are being taken through legislative action that there will be tightening up of the system so they can check on the children, so nothing can ever slip through the cracks again.”
Breslin honors Christian for his influence, even now, “You have opened our eyes to the evil that lurks. No justice could ever make up for what has happened to you, but understand the fight against cowards like Riley and Kubina is not over yet.”
Christian’s mother requested that his tombstone feature her maiden name, Eriks, which is also on Christian’s birth certificate, in order to distance him from his abusive father.