I would like to once again point out that the reason that I feel it is so important to write about this is so you will understand how very real this became to me. Vincent was my second cousin. His father, Ricky and I are first cousins. Ricky's father, my uncle Randy, is my mom's brother. Ricky and his sister Sherilyn mostly grew up in Peabody, Kansas. They moved there after their parents divorced. My brother Dusty and I saw them during summers and during Christmas and other holidays, but we really didn't GROW UP with them. And unfortunately we also really didn't keep in touch. I don't really know why, but now I really wish we had.
I feel that it is VERY important to state that we weren't close because I want to make sure you understand that I only saw Vincent two times in his short little life. Now that I live near Austin and they live in Kansas, it was kind of hard to see them very often. So, as you look at my blog, it may seem as though I was around Vincent and I was basically in his life and sadly that isn't the case. I knew about him and I heard about him often. My Grandparents told me a lot about him and how cute he was, and he definitely was. He was adorable; even when he was a tiny baby. (But all Grandma and Grandpa's Great-Grand-kids are)
Ricky and Nycole got married in 2007 and they had Vincent James Hill in August of 2008. I am not sure where the name Vincent came from, but James came from James Mooring, my Grandmother's father's name. I received a super cute birth announcement from them and I was really proud for them. They were both excited about him and I was happy for them. I believe my Grandparents went up to visit and meet Vincent not long after he was born.
I was finally able to meet Vincent over Christmas in 2008. He was so dang cute! He was a butterball, but he was a happy, happy baby. It was also the first time that I ever met Nycole and I LOVED her. I was really impressed that Ricky could snag such a super cute girl. As I watched her with Vincent, I was seriously impressed. I mean she was barely 18 years old and she was amazing with him. I mean at 18, I wouldn't have been that good with a baby; I can assure you. She was gentle and protective and was very nice. She wasn't quiet, and she held her own with Ricky! Ha… I got an opportunity to spend some time with her and Sherilyn and we had some fun talks and gossiped quite a bit and I really genuinely liked her.
I was only able to spend a few hours with them, but it was fun. I asked quite a bit of questions about Nycole and what I gathered is that she grew up in foster-care. She was in and out and never really had a home to call her own. From what I have been told, her mother gave her up at age 17 and she was hooked on drugs, but she would get rehabilitated and then get Nycole back. Then it became a cycle and she would go from a foster home to her home, and then back to foster care. I also recently learned that Nycole's MOM grew up the same way.
When Nycole was in High School she got in a car accident with two of her friends and both of them died. I think it took her a long time to get over that. I can't imagine the burden that she must have felt with that as well.
After learning all of that, I was even MORE impressed with her and I couldn't believe she was still sane!
In the middle of 2009 Sherilyn moved to Ecuador with her boyfriend Pedro and then Nycole and Ricky I guess started having problems in their marriage. I am not going to talk about that because it’s not my business to tell, but what I will say is that Nycole and Ricky separated and somewhere between being on good terms and starting on bad, she got pregnant with their second child .
I don't know much in between summer and fall 2009, but sometime in December 2009 Nycole started dating someone and moved in with him.
On February 12, 2010, Tarah Jayne Hill was born! Apparently she looked just like Vincent when he was born. I have only seen pictures, but she is so cute in the photos! Tarah's got her name from our Great-Grandmother, Tera Hill and I THINK Jayne is from someone on Nycole's side of the family. I thought it was really nice for them to use someone from Grandma's side and Grandpa's side to name their kids after.
Fast forward to March 27, 2010:
We were celebrating my son's 6th birthday and had just got home from the party. My grandma, mom and aunts went shopping and just my grandpa, my brother, and I were at home. Grandpa got a call on his cell phone from Ricky's mother, Gail, who was crying. She told Grandpa that Nycole was at her baby shower for Tarah in Wichita (Kansas) and that Vincent was staying with Nycole's boyfriend, Chad. Chad put Vincent down for a nap and then couldn't get him to wake up, so he called 911. Gail didn't know anymore details, but promised to call back when she did.
My Grandpa was very worried, explained what happened and then called my Aunt Terri and told them to get back to my house. During this time, I had called Randy, who hadn't heard from Gail yet, so unfortunately I had to tell him what was going on.
The girls arrived back at my house and about 20 minutes later, around 4:40pm, my Grandma got the call that Vincent had passed away. She answered the phone, didn't say anything, just hung up and broke down.
I have NEVER been witness to anything like it. It was horrible, the hurt that they were both going through. We were all hurt and sad and upset, but no one took it quite and hard as my Grandparents and it’s an awful feeling to sit there and not be able to say or do anything to make it better.
After things were settled a little bit we went to dinner together as a family. If you know either of my Grandparents, you know that they are NOT drinkers, by any means. My Grandpa always cracks a joke about how my Grandma can have 2 sips of alcohol and she is wasted, so they just don't drink. So needless to say, I have never in my 29 years seen my Grandpa or Grandma even taste any of our drinks and that night my Grandma I shared a margarita at the restaurant. I am not sure if I thought that was funny or sad, but either way we shared one.
That night we tried to play cards. Grandma, Grandpa, Josh and I have an intense game of progressive rummy every time we are together. We even keep a tally over who wins. This has been going on for almost 5 years now. That night we tried to play and literally in the 4th round, we said forget it because we all just had too much on our minds, so we didn't even finish. (Do you call that a canceled game or a forfeit?)
The next day which was Sunday, Grandma talked to Gail who told her that they didn't know the cause of death, but that they would be doing an autopsy and a toxicology report and we would know something in a few days.
In all this time, even right after we found out that he had died, the only thing I could think of is how can a 19 month old just pass away in his sleep? Nothing added up to me, it just seemed too convenient that he was with the boyfriend when it happened. Red Flags were going through my mind. NEVER once did I consider it to be more than an accident or something incidental; like maybe Vincent fell down the stairs and he got a concussion and he went to sleep. I mean Chad called 911, so why would it be anything more?
Later that afternoon, my aunt called me hysterical and said that the boyfriend had been arrested on murder charges; MURDER charges. I was literally numb and didn't know what to think. He had literally beaten Vincent to death.
I cannot begin to tell you how this made me feel. I was angry, numb, sad and seriously worried about my Grandparents. I knew this would be so hard on them and it was. My Great-Grandparents, Teed and R.D. took care of Ricky and Sherilyn when they were little. R.D. passed away several years ago, and Teed is 91 still going. I knew it was going to be very hard for my Grandparents to tell her. They chose not to tell her the full story, only that he died in his sleep like we had originally thought.
I know I mentioned earlier that I had only met Vincent once and it almost seems silly that I would be so upset over it. I mean in reality, it’s just another story you see on the news. Yes he was family, but family that I barely knew. I hadn't even talked to Ricky or Nycole in over a year, except for on Facebook. So it seemed a bit selfish to take it so hard. But when you sit back and you think about it; the victim being a toddler, an innocent little baby that can't fight back, can't even run into another room to call 911 himself, and that toddler is FAMILY, it takes on a whole new life of anger and bitterness.
After talking to my Grandparents and checking in on them, I got online to see the newspaper. The neighbors were interviewed and said that since January they heard yelling and screaming and a baby crying all the time. They even said that they had called SRS (Social and Rehabilitation Services) to report them. SRS is a hot-line that you can call to report your suspicions of abuse. The poor neighbors should have called 911 instead, but they called the hot-line several times. I guess the hot-line decided that it didn't sound suspicious because they put his case in a pile and never reported it to the local police. It also said that Chad had been arrested on Saturday night, so it kind of through me for a loop when just earlier that morning my Grandma had talked to Gail and she never said a word about him being hurt, or that they suspected anything ill of the boyfriend.
So I kind of thought maybe it wasn't exactly as it seemed, because from what I knew previously, Chad was a nice guy. No one ever said he was a bad guy. I mean truthfully, I thought maybe Nycole had gone to her baby shower, he was home with Vincent, and Vincent wouldn't calm down. He tried to call Nycole and she didn't answer and Vincent just wouldn't calm down and then BAM he just lost all control. I have kids and I know how frustrating it can be when they don't calm down and it goes on for hours. But with your own child it’s different and Vincent was Nycole's child, so maybe he hit him and didn't realize his own strength. I was just thinking of ANYTHING that would make sense, and when that didn't add up I just kept trying to put pieces together.
At this point, your mind just starts to turn wheels and soon you start forming your own opinions, judgments, thoughts and suspicions. I have 2 beautiful little boys; I can't imagine hurting them or them being hurt and not noticing that SOMETHING was going on. So immediately my mind starts flowing to everyone in Kansas and especially Nycole. HOW can you not know what's going on? How can you live with a man that beat your child literally to death and never notice a sign of it? I didn't believe for one second that Nycole lived with this man and he never showed any signs of being abusive until that very day. You don't go from being a nice guy to beating a baby. I just didn't buy it.
So almost hourly I started checking the Kansas newspaper and website articles. I found out stuff that I can't even fathom.
(This part gets detailed, so if you want to skip it, I wouldn't blame you)
Vincent was beaten from head to toe, he had stabs in his mouth from a fork, slapped across the face, some of his fingernails had been ripped out, he had a broken clavicle (collarbone) and a broken tibia (in your leg; the second strongest bone in your body). The paper said it had been twisted in an unnatural position. The Harvey County Attorney is quoted to have said "In my 28 years as an attorney and prosecutor, I have never seen injuries like this on a child"
The final autopsy still hasn't been released, so we are still unclear as to what was actually the cause of death. But it was released that he had old and new injuries to his body.
Later, it also came out that they found drug paraphernalia and evidence of child pornography (now remember this was HIS house and not hers, so she likely didn't know about that)
I decided immediately to go to his funeral. I had to go because I needed to be there for my Grandparents, and the rest of my family. It was important that I go and as guilty as I feel about this, I had questions and I wanted to ask questions. I wasn't trying to be nosy; I just really wanted to understand how Nycole didn't know or even the rest of the family that lived in Kansas. How could you not know your child was being abused? Was this a one time occurrence? Was it going on for awhile and they tried to stop it, but couldn't? What was going on and why didn't his parents know???
Sadly, while I was upset over Vincent, I was also trying to find an explanation. If you know me, you know I don't rest until I find answers to my questions. Bad habit, because sometimes there aren't clear cut answers. I asked my Grandparents questions about what they had been told and then just tried to put pieces together in my head. (Maybe that's why Josh and I are so compatible; we like puzzles)
A couple of days later, I got a few things answered when Nycole was arrested as well. I was SO mad. Mad doesn't even describe or even begin to describe what I was feeling. I was furious and so upset at the same time. In all this time, I definitely thought that Nycole had to have known what was going on, but that she participated? That never entered my mind once. Previously she had told the police that a few days before Vincent had fallen down 4 or 5 flights of carpeted stairs, but the autopsy report stated that those injuries were not consistent with the injuries to his body. So up until she had been arrested, I thought that she was just covering for her boyfriend. But that's what abused victims do. They protect their abuser, so yes that still makes her guilty, but it’s also consistent with abuse victims.
But when I read her arrest report, THAT SHE SIGNED, I was amazed that she actually participated in the events leading up to that day. I was appalled actually and I absolutely hated her. HATE isn't really a good word to use, but it was what I felt at the time and poor Ricky was in complete denial that she had anything to do with it. So that made me angry and I didn't understand that either. Don't protect her; she played a part in the death of your child. Why protect her? (Keep reading. I'll go somewhere with that)
Mid-week, I finally texted Sherilyn and then I put myself back to the issue at hand, my family. This wasn't a case for me to solve. I was to be there for my family and that's what I started focusing on. It didn't even occur to me that maybe my cousin Sherilyn might need an outlet. She was caught in the middle of everything and so that's what I decided my focus was going to be on, her. Ricky too, but he had his own way of dealing with it. I wanted Sherilyn to know that I wasn't trying to be nosy, so I never asked her about what she thought. I just let her know that I loved her and if she needed to talk that she could and I genuinely meant that. I talked my aunt into driving down earlier than we originally planned just to see Sherilyn. I can't tell you how badly I wanted to just take her away from all of it. I just felt so sorry for her; she took it really hard. She happened to be visiting her family, so she was in town. I am glad though because if she had been in Ecuador when this happened, I am not sure if she could have boarded the plane.
I also became focused on Vincent's little sister, Tarah. I had thought about her every day and what would happen to her. She was only 6 weeks old. Josh and I spoke and we decided together that if they wanted her away from the situation, even if just temporarily, then we would be happy to take her home with us.
On Wednesday CPS came and got her to take her to the hospital and check her out. Apparently she is as healthy as can be, but currently she is still in State Protective Custody. They only get to see her on Monday's for 1 hour until the courts decide where she should be placed. Sadly our family never got to meet her.
Thursday, Terri and I headed to Kansas. We arrived at about 1am and got up and met Sherilyn for lunch on Friday. It was so good to see her and to give her a big hug. Sherilyn is very mature for her age and has an amazing heart.
Before getting there I had all these assumptions in my head, but after I talked to her, I decided it wasn't right to judge anyone in this mess. She made so much sense and I understood a little better about the family and how they really didn't know. She said that if anything they thought maybe he was being neglected because of the new baby but now, looking back, it all made sense to her.
She said that he seemed sad. They saw a few bruises, but never anything more than a light bruise and kids get bruises a lot. (You should see Judson right now) He was happy with them, but occasionally when the family would talk loudly (we have a VERY loud family, all across the board) or have a normal family debate, Vincent would scream and start crying. They just assumed that it was because they were too loud! That seems pretty logical to me too. If you have never had experience with abuse, and it’s not always physical, it’s hard to determine if you don't know the signs. Even I didn't know the signs until I started researching it. It’s easy to judge when you are on the outside looking in. I mean even I was judging them before I talked to them. I now feel awful about that.
I didn't even think of this beforehand, but I realized something as we sat there in the restaurant and talked. Nycole had an awful upbringing, her childhood and never having a home, the emotional toll that she was carrying about the car wreck she was in, the fact that she and her husband were separated and she was living with a man that had to have been abusive to her, even it were only verbally. When Sherilyn mentioned that they thought Vincent was sad because of the new baby, something clicked in my head that I hadn't thought of before. I believe wholeheartedly that Nycole was suffering from Postpartum Depression. Of course, I immediately Googled PPD and there was a list of things that she fit the criteria of such as:
* Are under age 20
* Currently abuse alcohol, take illegal substances, or smoke (these are also serious medical health risks for the baby)
* Did not plan the pregnancy or do not want the pregnancy
* Had a mood or anxiety disorder prior to pregnancy, including depression with a previous pregnancy
* Had something stressful happened to you during the pregnancy, including illness, death or illness of a loved one, a difficult or emergency delivery, premature delivery, or illness or abnormality in the baby
* Have a close family member who has had depression or anxiety
* Have a poor relationship with your husband, boyfriend, or significant other or are unmarried
* Have financial problems (low income, poor housing)
* Have little support from family, friends, and a significant other
* Previously attempted suicide (I don't know if she was suicidal before, but they have her under suicide watch right now)
* Received poor support from your parents in childhood
I am not a doctor obviously but Nycole fits 90% of those things.
I have a hard time believing that a person that I met not even 2 years ago that I LIKED A LOT and saw how she loved Vincent and how sweet and gently she took care of him, could have done those things with a clear head and full heart. I truly believe that she has a severe case of postpartum.
AND let’s make things clear; I DO believe she did what she did. She signed the statement stating that she did them, but now I can fully understand why Ricky is in denial. The Nycole that he knew probably couldn't have done those things. The problem is that if I am right, then this disease had taken over her and she couldn't help it.
I can speak from first-hand experience. I didn't have postpartum after my boys, but last May I went to the doctor and I told her how I was feeling. I was moody, irritable, and I flew off the handle at the littlest things. I never felt good and I couldn't remember the last time that I had laughed. I wanted nothing to do with anyone socially speaking and, no matter what I did; I couldn't pull myself out of it. I loved Josh and the boys, but I had NO EARTHLY idea WHY I couldn't show it. It was as if someone else had taken over my body. I felt like I was happy on the inside, like I knew I loved the boys and Josh, but on the outside, I showed something totally different. Finally one day I decided that I WANTED to laugh at something and no matter what, I couldn't, so I finally made myself a doctor's appointment and literally bawled my eyes out when I told her I literally couldn't laugh. I was so mad, and really couldn't laugh. Nothing was funny to me. My mouth always felt dry and my voice was as mono-toned as could be. She put me on Wellbutrin and in about 1 month I noticed a huge difference, and the longer I was on it the better I felt. I fully realized how much of a difference it made when Josh and I went to the Lake and literally as we were driving, I saw the trees and how pretty they were. Sounds silly, but it was like I could see vibrant colors that I never saw before and I was genuinely HAPPY.
Back to Nycole, I really feel that this is what was going on with her. I think she was depressed and didn't know how or what to do. The few things she participated in were huge, no doubt about it, but her part in it was she slapped him, and she stabbed the inside of his mouth with a fork. Definitely wrong, I am not saying she doesn't deserve to be arrested by any means. But having gone through the depression thing myself, I know how frustrating things are with kids. Possibly Vincent wouldn't eat and she forced the fork in his mouth forcefully and who knows about the slap; she did it. It is difficult to think of a reason to slap a 19 month old, or jab a kid with a fork either. But depression has a way of taking over your body that I can't explain. She was also charged with neglect and something else as well. (I can't remember what it was)
IF I am right and she is suffering from depression, I can honestly say that I feel for her, but NOT to the extent that I feel she should be acquitted of anything. She did what she did and she deserves to suffer the consequences for her actions. She needs counseling as much as anything. But I feel for her for the fact that now, she will get medicated and she will begin to see what her actions did to her baby that I know she loved. After I started feeling the effects of my medicine, one day I broke down in tears over how badly I treated Josh and how much "fun" time I missed with the boys. I mean I barely remember anything good during that time period. You really don't understand depression unless you have had it. I saw Nycole with him and she loved him. There is no doubt in my mind. So once she realizes what she did, she will have along road to get past.
Now if I am wrong and she is just a mean, clearheaded, heartless person, then I scratch all of that that you just read.
Either way, the boyfriend deserves to rot in prison and hopefully he won't even make it long in there. Apparently according to rumors, baby killers are the first to go in prison. Good riddance Chad.
We finished up lunch and Sherilyn and I decided we really wanted to try to see Nycole. Probably not the brightest of ideas on our part, but remember that this is someone that Sherilyn considered a friend at one point. We didn't want to see her to be mean, or to even play nice. I won't speak for Sherilyn but, for me, I wanted to look into her eyes and see what my gut feeling was. But God must have been looking out for us because in all honesty it probably wasn't a good decision. As luck would have it, the courthouse closed at noon on Friday.
We were so upset and I don't even really know why. We just really wanted to see her. Both of us for separate reasons, but I think looking back it was probably not a good idea. You see, I had every intention of talking to her about Tarah. I want Tarah to be a part of my family. Selfishly I want her away from the mess that is in Kansas right now. But I have since decided to leave that up to God. I trust that he will guide the courts to make the best decision for her. I don't want her growing up like Nycole; in and out of foster care. I want her with family. I am not sure what or how Ricky feels. He loves his daughter, but I think he is still in such shock that even he doesn't know what is best for her at this point.
That evening we went to the church home for a memorial service. Sherilyn, Alice (their older sister) and Lexi, (their niece) put together a really sweet collage of pictures of Vincent. It was sad and the next day would even be harder.
Saturday we woke up, got ready to say goodbye to little sweet Vincent. Ricky was adamant about speaking at the funeral about Vincent. When he said he would "wing it" I told him not to, but in the end I think he wrote a few notes on his program. We went into the church; Gail was beyond amazing at including all of the family together. She made sure we all felt comfortable together. Randy, his girlfriend and Gail and her husband sat in a pew together and I think Jim even put his hand on Randy's shoulder. Kenny, Terri, me and Alice and her husband sat together in the 3rd pew. Ricky, Sherilyn, Grandma and Grandpa and Lexi sat together in the first pew. I know it seems strange that that was important to me, but it was. It was amazing that Gail could be so selfless and allow anyone to sit where they wanted. I took that to heart; I really did. Our families have had our differences, but when it came down to it, this day was seriously about Vincent and NO ONE made it about themselves. Randy and Ricky, who had been at odds since last summer, came together and got along amazingly well. Ricky is temperamental person, and I half expected there to be an issue and there wasn't; not at all.
I read a poem that Ricky likes. (Actually our whole family loves it. I have read it at 3 of our family members’ funerals. Maybe it’s an unsaid tradition now. The poem is called To Those I Love; God's Speed was sung by Lindsay Marshall, a country music artist that is from Peabody. It was beautiful. (The Dixie Chicks sing it)
Then Ricky got up there and did what I could NEVER have done. He got up and spoke about Vincent. It was beautiful and he did an amazing job and it flowed together beautifully. And yes, he did pretty much "wing it". He said a lot of personal things that surprised me. I can honestly say that I will look at him differently from now on. He spoke with maturity and emotion. I didn't cry at all until he started talking, but it was so heartfelt that I really couldn't help it.
Ricky thanked the family for being there about 4 times during his speech, and it was genuine; he really meant it. I really don't know why he thought we wouldn't be there for him. He is family and we love him and we loved Vincent.
This post sort of took on a life of its own. I had no intention of going into such detail, but I thought it was important for you to realize that child abuse not only affects the abuser, but the entire family, immediate and extended. And it affects you in so many different forms and fashions. I never in a million years would have thought this could happen in my family. There was no way that I could have predicted or looked for signs, but from now on I will most definitely be watching out for other kids. Child Abuse is all around us and it comes in many different forms. I am not sure if it’s because Vincent is still fresh on my mind, but in the 4 days that I have been back in town, I have already been in contact with 2 kids that need help. Both are neglected; their parents don't care about them. Both are athletes and 1 of them stayed the night at our house because Josh had caught him sleeping by the door of the field house. When he came to our house, he had nothing with him. We fed him and he was so appreciative. I asked him if I needed to call his mom and he said no, she won't care and she didn't. He was arrested the weekend before. He was with a "friend" who wanted him to steal some beer. When he was caught he had beer in 1 arm and a loaf of bread in another. The officer said that his friend probably coaxed him into stealing the beer and then he saw that as an opportunity to steal food. This is so incredibly sad. I can't imagine being a mom and not caring about my child.
I know it doesn't make it any better, but I truly believe Vincent death was meant to save his sister. If he hadn't died, who knows how long they would have been in that house. Tarah would have been living with a child molester and abuser. At least now maybe we can take comfort in knowing that Vincent is in a much better place and Tarah is saved from a life of pure hell.
I can also say that I have realized what an amazing, wonderful life I have; outside of football. I used to be so proud to be a coach's wife and now I can honestly say that I am proud to be Josh's wife, not just Coach Mann's wife. I am never going to take him or our kids for granted and I am going to give up a few of my hobbies to spend more time with them. I am going to do things with them that I put off because of things that I wanted to do for me. I have always told them I loved them and they are not deprived of anything believe me, but I am going to show them in ways that I haven't before. I am also going to make a much better effort of keeping in touch with my family; even extended. You never know when you'll need them as much as they need you. For me, all of this starts today.
I encourage you all to do the same thing as well.