Wednesday, September 30, 2009

July 29, 1999

Yesterday Jeff was charged with murder, involuntary manslaughter, felonious assault, and two counts of child endangering. Megan was only charged with child endangering. I hope they get the maximum sentence, but even that couldn't be enough retribution for the agony they have caused us. The Beacon Journal did an article on Mark and Bethanie. It was a pretty good article, I can't read it without crying, though. I keep wondering when it will get easier to get through the day. Every morning I wake up feeling the pain anew. Evey hour of every day feels as if the wound just keeps being ripped open over and over again. I am literally sick with grief. I cry several times a day, sometimes without warning. In my head I know I have many things to live for, but my heart just wants to die. I'm not suicidal, I just want the pain to stop. My heart just feels like it's going to split apart and it would spills tears instead of blood. I don't know if this agony is normal, I don't know anyone who has ever gone through anything like this. It has only been two weeks, how much longer before I want to live again? I get frustrated about Chelsea. I want her with me so desperately but it is taking so long. I need her. I need her to remind me of my purpose in life. I need her so I can focus on taking care of her, give her the best life she can possible have. I guess I'm hoping that having Chelsea will fill the empty, raw void in my heart.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wednesday, July 23, 1999

The indictment came down today, but the Prosecutor says he can't tell us anything until Monday. Another day of waiting and wondering for nothing. It's so hard to focus on anything else. Today I've thought a lot about *Jeff Balder. I guess I've always been so fascinated by his crime that I didn't really consider the pain he caused to his victims' families. Maybe I did consider it, it's just that up until now, I didn't realize the depth of their pain. How can I listen to him tell me how he deserves an appeal, when I am now in the same position as his victims? How would I fell about Bethanie's killer getting out early because it was his first offense? A murder not only takes a life, but forever changes the lives of all of the victims. Should he be allowed to get on with his life after losing only a few years? I don't know if I can ever face him again. I know that there will be many lessons to be learned throughout the duration of this journey we didn't ask to take. I only hope that I am able to identify them all and use them to enrich our lives. It just wouldn't be right to let Bethanie's death be in vain. I've become very frustrated with the press. All they want to talk about is the Kennedy deaths. There was even a Kennedy memorial fund set up. Don't they have enough money? Yesterday, a young man from Guatemala was found drowned in the river. There was a fund set up to send his body home in less than 24 hours. Wasn't our baby's death at least as important as his?

* Jeff Balder was convicted of murder in Tuscarawas County. My now ex-husband had been his jailer during his trial, and the two remained friends after Jeff was sent to prison. I frequently went along to visit Jeff and found him to be a pitiful young man who had made an irreversible mistake. He was caught stealing a $3 bottle of deer lure, and chose to shoot the security guard who apprehended him, rather than go to jail for the theft.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wednesday, July 21, 1999

The Grand Jury that I waited on pins and needles for, got up at 5 a.m. for, was postponed. Angie said they had new evidence.

July 22nd- Bethanie's 4th birthday. Rough day all around, no news about anything. Maybe the Grand Jury will actually meet tomorrow.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tuesday, July 21st, 1999

I set up the Bethanie Gardner Fund today. I'd always hoped that I'd be doing that to pay for her college or wedding. I never imagined I'd be doing it for her burial. More offers of help have come in from friends. I hope they don't all forget. All people want to help in a tragedy like this, but when their pain fades, often times their intentions fade with it. Pure pain will go on; each time it fades something comes along to rip open the wound again and start the bleeding anew Today I sit, hurting, but not crying yet. Waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for the coroner, Dr Platt, to call and schedule an appointment that will so graphically paint the picture of our little girls' last hours. I don't think I can bear it, but I know I must. My mind knows that Bethanie is forever gone, but heart just keeps screaming to just give her back. Giver her back and we'll do it different this time, not let her die. But there are no second chances for this. Our precious little girl is a butterfly now, free in the heavens where she suffers no more. The suffering is now up to us, and suffer is what we do, all we do. Everything causes pain. Babies in restaurants, cartoons, the color pink, talk of death, talk of life; there is no escape, pain is everywhere every minute of every day. Tomorrow I return to work. I wonder how many tears I'll shed just trying to get through the day. I don't want to go, don't want to stay home. I just want my baby back.

At 3pm Dr Platts calls. He says he can't release autopsy details until after the trial and that Det. Gaines must have been mistaken. I know that Det. Gaines said to call right away. I feel like we've suffered dread and anticipation for nothing, only to remain in limbo for as long as the judicial system chooses. We are now just puppets, with the law being the puppeteer.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Monday, July 19, 1999

Detective Gaines interviewed all of us. He said he was trying to make sure Megan gets what she deserves. He said Bethanie had a lacerated liver and spleen, that Jeff's boot print was on her chest. He said she sick and malnourished. I can't believe we never realized what was being done to our babies. I have to gather our phone records for him, to prove all the times Mark tried to see the girls.

A lady called to see about helping to get the things we need to bring Chelsea home. It looks like they may try to get her bedroom stuff. It's comforting to know so many people care.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Entry Three

Sunday morning I couldn't get up. I finally got up at 11:30 a.m., then cried most of the morning. Friends came over and it was a little better, the pain temporarily waylaid by caring. More snippets of healing. I fell asleep again, exhausted, up again at 6. The grand jury hearing is tomorrow. Even though I planned the day for little solitude, it will be in my mind. I will wait to hear the indictments, praying for the most severe charges. Nothing can make up for what they've done.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Second entry, date unknown

Seeing Chelsea was rapture. She was safe and happy; loves us and lets us love her. She is now our reason fo rliving. The only dark clouds were the times she called out for her sister. It is a blessing that her Down Syndrome keeps her from knowing more than a little girl should bear. It is so strange to see her alone, since her sissy was always with her.

The funeral was the hardest thing I've ever been through. Megan was out on bail and permitted to attend. Not only were we thick with grief, but then to be forced to face one of her killers; I wondered how much pain a human could endure. It make me sick to look at her, to hear her cry. She approached Mark several times, I wanted so deperately to protect him, but he is a man now and must firght his own battles as he sees fit. Finally it was over. Our baby was in the ground and the finality of her murder hung over me like a thick fog. Friends came to the house and gave me the best medicine for my pain. They gave me the happy memories of a time before life got so hard. Small bits of healing love. I hope someday the healing will be complete. Until then I will simply try to keep what's left of my heart alive.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The first entry in my journal

Apparently I made the first entry on July 18, 1999. I have left it intact, as I wrote it:

July 13, 1999, the day my granddaughter died. July 17th we buried her. On July 22nd she would have celebrated her 4th birthday. She would have, except that her life was beaten out of her by her step-father, all because she had a tantrum. Maybe her mother beat her too, it’s too early to know. At the very least, her mother knew and did nothing to save her.

When I received the call that Jeff had killed Bethanie, my life was forever changed. I knew as I was crying out in agony on the floor that part of me had died a huge part. I felt in shock as Tim drove me to Akron. Waves of pain flooded over me, pain for my lost little Bethanie, and pain for my son. My son who was now enduring the worst pain a human can endure. My 23 year old baby, just six weeks before his wedding, has lost his baby to the hands of another.

Throughout the night I went from pain to numbness, sometimes both in minutes, I wanted to kill them for taking our girl from us forever. I wanted to kill them for cheating us out of all the time we could have had with her before, because now we can never hope for more.

I didn’t sleep that night. Each time I dozed off, I awoke suddenly, awash in the horror of what her last moments must have been like; in anger because we might have gotten her out if Megan had let Mark see the girls on that Monday. Anger because if they didn’t want her, we would have taken her. The next day was terrible. We went back to Akron and spent the day going about the business of grieving. We dealt with Children’s Services, with funeral details, with caring friends and relatives. We tried not to be angry with one another amid the heat, the chaos, the raw pain. Sometimes we succeeded, sometimes we didn’t. We worried about Chelsea. What would happen to her? How would we get her without money to pay for an attorney? Her uncle Charles and aunt Christy had her, but would they give her up? There was word that Megan and Jeff were charged with murder, word of bail, then no bail. Fear that they would be at the funeral.

On Thursday we went to the custody hearing for Chelsea. Custody was removed from Megan – she was legally stripped of the the rights that she gave up the first time she ignored her daughters’ cries. We all felt a sense of relief, Chelsea would soon be with us, and for the first time since the horror began, we could see her. Later that day we bought Bethanie’s burial dress. I hated the look of horror on the clerks faces when they realized who we were.

Friday morning was horrible. It was the first time I was alone with my pain. I had many things to do, and no strength to do them. I had to call about bills that were due, pick up the casket spray, fill up my car. Duties of normal life, interspersed with the duties of grief. I cried a lot, being alone was not good. Between errands, I came home to cry. When I picked up the casket spray, I nearly fainted when I saw how little it was. It still felt like some horrible nightmare that I would surely awaken from any moment. I took the flowers to the funeral home and then went to sit uselessly while I watched my son’s heart breaking. The pain of my loss and of helplessly watching my son’s pain still continued to rise up like bile.

A woman from Victim’s Assistance came to offer hope. There was hope of financial help, hope of legal help, and hope of support. Behind the scenes, all of our friends in Newcomerstown were supporting us. Food arrived, flowers and offers of help in preparing for Chelsea’s arrival.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I've made a tough decision...

When Bethanie was murdered, I kept a journal. I don't really know why I kept it, I just did. I don't know if I used it as a daily catharsis, or maybe I wanted to be able to hold people accountable later on. To this day I am not sure why I did it. I guess it doesn't really matter. What I have decided is to start at the beginning of the journal and share it on here. No one has ever read it. I haven't read it for years. It sits on my bookshelf, always the first thing I see when I look at the rows of books on the shelf. It is small and gray, yet it jumps out at me every time I pass by it. For some unknown reason, I feel like it is time to dust off that little book and open it for the first time in years. Part of me fears it; I fear that reading it will be like pouring salt in old wounds. I fear that my barely contained anger and pain will once again bubble to the surface after I have worked so hard to contain it. I fear that this is what I have needed to do all along. For good or bad, tomorrow I will post the first entry.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Heart For Children

While "tweeting" today, I happened across a fellow Tweeter who wants to stop child abuse a desperately as I do. This is a wonderful, heart-wrenching, provocative site that calls to task those entities charged with protecting children. The site displays their incompetency and makes them accountable. I'm glad for sites like this, because our legal system will never hold them accountable for their failures, so we must. My Bethanie was murdered in Akron, OH, and my experience with Child Protective Services in Summit County was a nightmare of Gothic proportions. Not only did they fail to protect Bethanie's sister, they put her in the path of danger, even locking she and I in a room to try to make me comply with their misguided and irresponsible requests. I will come back and tell this story in another post, but for now, take a look at this site:

Monday, September 7, 2009


This video says it all. While it is very difficult to watch, it is also a stark reminder that we all must remain vigilant in our goal to stop child abuse. There are many evil people out there, and we must all do everything in our power to stop them before it is too late for another baby.