A fisherman discovered the body of a two year old blond girl inside a blue Sterilite utility box on a sandbar in the Galveston Intercoastal Waterway on October 29, 2007.
Imagine you’re a fisherman, going about the hard labor of your day and you find a dead toddler.
The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office determined the unidentified child had been dead for several weeks and for purposes of the investigation referred to her as Baby Grace.
News affiliates distributed a Baby Grace sketch. A grandmother in Mentor, Ohio, who hadn’t seen her blond granddaughter since May called the Galveston Sheriff’s Office when she saw the sketch. Her son later gave a DNA sample. It matched.
Baby Grace turned out to be Riley Ann Sawyers.
Working around three skull fractures and severe decomposition, that forensic artist deserves a promotion. Imagine that’s your job, drawing portraits of the dead.
I guess this story nagged at me because I was in Galveston at the time, for the first time, attending a conference.
What a dump, I thought as I drove into town.
The area has some pretty things; sprawling resorts and Victorian mansions and slices of beach. But turn off the main drag (or get lost for thirty minutes, as I did) and you’ll cruise by a lot of people sitting on rotten porches smoking cigarettes and looking poor in the middle of the afternoon.
It’s not hard to picture bad things happening inside falling down houses.
Yet when Kimberly Trenor and her cyber boyfriend were arrested for Riley’s murder the community was shocked, outraged, hungry for blood.
Whenever a parent murders a child, people call the act “unthinkable”.
A lot of adjectives come to my mind, but not “unthinkable”.
Imagine you’re 18. You’re a high school dropout. You’re a teen mother. You’re from a low socio-economic background. You don’t have many friends. Your relationship with your high school sweetheart/baby daddy ended a few months ago, when you had him arrested and charged with domestic violence. You are isolated. You are alienated. The child you didn’t plan on having fills your days with banal chores. The monotony is endless, suffocating.
Don’t touch. Where are your shoes? Put that down! Time for bed. Don’t touch that. No you can’t have that. Stop crying. Say thank you. Brush your teeth. Did you brush your teeth? I said brush your teeth. Did you brush your teeth? Did you hear what I said?
To escape life’s myriad disappointments, you spend hours online playing World of Warcraft. You meet a 24 year old guy from Texas. He becomes the only interesting part of days that drag on like decades. In private emails you exchange tips for killing monsters and retrieving magical artifacts.
Your new cyber boyfriend sends you expensive gifts and eventually invites you to move in with him in Spring, Texas.
You inform your father you’re leaving and stuff your belongings and toddler into the car, driving from suburban Cleveland to Spring, near Houston.
At first the change is exhilarating. A wedding takes place on June 1. You’re an honest woman now.
But the summer is brutal in Texas and it wears on even the best of nerves. Your new husband is not so great in the parenting department. Your hyper toddler needs controlling, and his ideas are primitive and cruel. But you go along with it.
One day the correctional plan goes awry. Something snaps. Your new husband beats your daughter with a belt, holds her head underwater, throws her across the room and ultimately kills her. You help him wrap her body in a purple towel and stuff it inside a blue Sterilite utility box. The box will sit in a shed for two months. The two hottest months of the year. When your father calls, you lie and tell him Riley’s sleeping or playing. Which she might be – only, in heaven.
When summer’s over you and your new husband take a drive. The blue Sterilite utility box gets thrown into Galveston Bay, as if guilt and remorse could be so easily disposed of.
It’s a relief not to have the box in the shed anymore. But you know what you’ve done.
On December 13, 2007, both Kimberly Trenor and Royce Clyde Zeigler II were charged with capital murder.
Trenor’s attorneys maintain that Zeigler had Riley on a “disciplinary program” that went too far. The blame shifting begins.
I find their poor parenting uninteresting. Sad and terrible, yes, interesting no.
AN EYE FOR AN EYE scream the message boards.
I get upset when communities get upset about these things. The mob mentality, the collective grief and outrage seem so disingenuous, so contrived.
How can anyone be genuinely outraged when poor and stupid people commit heinous crimes, considering how indifferent we all are on a daily basis to other people’s circumstances?
It approaches the highest levels of hypocrisy.
Want to be indignant and demand justice? Frequent your local Wal-Mart. Intervene every time you spot a teen parent smacking a toddler. Offer to babysit and help out financially. Then you can act as self-righteously as you want when the child is fatally tossed across the room.
Calling a crime “unthinkable” and “monstrous” also lends a sensational air to a poor, stupid person’s shitty decisions. It imbues a person with Otherness, allows us to disassociate their behavior from their humanity, from our own humanity, when in reality Kimberly Trenor is little more than a young, selfish asshole, psychologically unready for parenting.
Trenor and Zeigler made horrible decisions, for which they may receive humanity’s harshest punishment.
We’re so eager to label them insane, psychotic, crazy. But the scary truth might be they’re just dumb and bad.
Trenor is several months pregnant with Zeigler’s child.
As you sit reading this she sits in the jail’s medical unit awaiting trial.
If they make it to trial.
Last week Zeigler attempted suicide.
Would have made a lot of people happy had he succeeded.
UPDATE: On June 26, 2008, CPS took custody of a baby boy born to Trenor.
UPDATE 2: Trenor was convicted of capital murder in February 2009 and is serving a life sentence. Zeigler was also convicted of capital murder in November 2009. He received an automatic life sentence. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.