Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Letter to the Editor: Part 2: Haven, Jordan and Elijah Halstead - Scott Allen

This is the second letter in a series of four on the September 1999 house fire that claimed the lives of Timothy Halstead, and his three children Haven, Jordan, and Elijah. As mentioned in my first letter my hope in writing the letters is to remember these precious children and also to help raise awareness of the issues of domestic violence/intimate partner violence, mental health, and substance abuse.

There are people who know far, far more than I could ever know about the Alexander-Halstead family, so I don’t pretend to be the arbiter of truth on the matter. I don’t know anyone’s private thoughts or actions. Honestly, I’m hoping that someone will write in response to me telling me how I’ve got it all wrong and here is what really happened. Maybe someone involved in the custody case or who was a friend can present some facts or maybe provide a different perspective. From what I’ve gathered, as of January 7, 2000, the Amador County Sheriff's Office said the investigation would continue into the deaths. That was the last word on the investigation that I could find. I know that we don’t always get the answers we want in life. Things aren’t always nice tidy affairs that are easily explainable. This case may be more complex than I’ll ever know, and I may just have to live with things as they were in late ’99 and early ’00. I acknowledge that my thoughts will not be well-received by everyone (or anyone?). I’m sorry that this is painful to you, the reader. I’m sorry if I needlessly and foolishly dredged up a tragedy that is perhaps best left alone. If you are a family member or were a friend of the family I’m sorry for revisiting the pain that was inflicted on you. Maybe the reason why I’ve never heard anyone talk about these children over the years is simply because it’s too painful. Perhaps that fact is lost on me more than I realize, and all my words are a waste. My intent is not to be callous or reckless, but I understand that it is unavoidable that I deeply offend or hurt someone’s feelings. For that, I apologize. I had to constantly remind myself while composing these letters that I’m talking about real people. Real people, real lives, real emotions, and real deaths. It’s unfathomable to imagine what it was like for Alyse Alexander and her family, and friends of the family to deal with such a profound and sudden loss. There is no scale that can measure a loss of that magnitude. I honestly don’t know how Alyse Alexander lived on.

I’m sure many people wondered then, and maybe even in 2018, how something like this could have happened. I don’t intend to try to blame anyone or any entity for any possible errors, failures, or omissions that may have in whole or in part led to Tim Halstead killing himself and his children. It’s probably controversial enough that I’m even claiming that Halstead did indeed murder his children, especially since law enforcement could not determine that it was a murder-suicide. Additionally, I don’t intend to speak for anyone, including the mother of Haven, Jordan, and Elijah – Alyse Alexander –  who sadly passed away in Arkansas in 2014 at the age of 45 (she is survived by two children from another relationship). I don’t know any more than what is publicly available. This tragedy simply could have come down to a failure of imagination: no one could have imagined that Tim Halstead would ever hurt his kids; his history of threats/violence, possibly declining mental health, and alleged alcohol/drug abuse issues notwithstanding. The November 1999 articles written by Cheryl Romo in the L.A. Daily Journal generated a lot of interest. In fact, the L.A. Daily Journal received more letters to the editor in response to her articles than any other articles in memory, at the time. From what I can tell, the articles were not well-received in Amador County. I think some believed that Amador County was being painted as some wild west county where men beat their female partners with impunity and that the county court was ill-equipped to protect women and children from violent men. I don’t know what is more painful to believe: that is was preventable or that it wasn’t. At least if it was preventable, that means there is some room somewhere for improvement in how we perceive and deal with IPV and its associated issues. Whether or not the deaths of these children were a catalyst for change, presumably processes changed, funding and training increased, awareness was raised, and lessons were learned since the time of the deaths in 1999. However, there is no permanent evidence that I’m aware of that serves as a reminder of what happened (other than the empty lot where the house once stood): No memorial. No fund. No awareness campaign to honor the children. It’s obviously not a fond memory, and I understand that people grieve and choose to remember lost loved ones in different ways. It was traumatic for all involved. Losing three young children is unimaginable. It likely left many people immobilized or feeling helpless; probably not able to think or act in certain ways without feeling intense grief. I’m certainly not implying that anyone did anything wrong as far as how these children were remembered and memorialized. Not every tragedy needs ongoing public displays of grief or other public actions. People should be allowed to remember lost loved ones in their hearts and in their minds, and I want to be respectful of those who wish to mourn privately and remain anonymous in doing so. It could simply be that at the time I was too uninvolved in the community to be aware of what happened or too oblivious to care about any kind of commemoration on behalf of the children at the time. Now, as an adult, I feel compelled to put my thoughts on paper in order to help someone who may be in danger of being abused (or causing abuse) to seek help, to help someone who may need mental health services, and to call upon everyone to speak up for those who are unable.

I’d love to think that if my current 36-year old self could be transported back to 1999 and I knew this family I would jump in to save the day. I’d love to think that, as I’m sure so many others have thought as well. But, in reality, I hate being nosy. I hate the thought of offending a neighbor who I thought, for example, was treating their partner/children poorly, only for me to be proven wrong (and rightfully embarrassed). So, I can’t pretend that I would definitely have acted any differently or better than those who knew this family. What happened on that day is a tragedy for “us.” A tragedy for humankind. Any time children, especially as young as Haven (8), Jordan (5), and Elijah (4), are killed, humankind has lost something. We lose the innocence the children bring to this world. We lose the love and curiosity of these children. Additionally, we lost the human potential of these children. According to what I’ve read about the family from the L.A. Daily Journal article, friends said that Haven loved to shop, Jordan loved Pok√©mon, and Elijah loved everything. Simply based on their pictures alone, these children were obviously very sweet and very precious.

Friends and certainly the family felt/feel the loss infinitely more than the community, society, the world, or me. With such profound loss, I’ve found that it reverberates. Sometimes for years, sometimes forever. When a friend of mine passed away in 2000 during our senior year of high school, I felt the shockwaves for years. It wasn’t until I was able to somehow deflect those shockwaves and turn them into vibrations that I was able to fully come to terms with his passing and that he was gone, and that I didn’t need to rage against whatever it was I was raging against any longer. For a long time, I was so worried that people/the community would forget him. I think it was when I finally realized he wouldn’t be forgotten, that the profound sadness I felt began to subside and the healing could begin (i.e. turning shockwaves into vibrations). Some of you knew him. His name is Michael Neville, and we just experienced the 19th annual basketball tournament held in his honor. I think that’s what I was worried about with Haven, Jordan, and Elijah. That they were somehow forgotten. I think that’s why I care so much about these children who I didn’t know and to whom I have no connection. Of course, I know there are numerous classmates, friends, and family that never have and never will forget them. I know these children are not forgotten. They were and still are deeply loved by so many. I guess I just want to add in some small way all these years later to the enormous love that so many had for these children. A love that no doubt endures to this day.

If you’ve come this far and read this and the first letter, perhaps you’ll read the third and fourth letters about these children. Until then, please reach out to someone if you, or people you know, are in a violent or volatile situation and need help.

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