I couldn’t get out of my mind the picture of her son crying out for help without thinking, why wasn’t she there?
Wife and mother Helena Richards Colby resides in a tony suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. Helena lives a life that most of us dream of—she’s wealthy and reasonably attractive, with a well-appointed home that includes plenty of space for entertaining, a large back yard with a pool, and a gorgeous lake view. But what Helena wants most is the envy and adulation of her peers, and to a greater degree (though she would never admit it) she wishes to climb the proverbial social ladder to become a select member of Cincinnati’s privileged elite.
Helena stepped on the first rung of that ladder in January 2012, when she talked her husband Will into nominating her for the title of Greater Cincinnati’s Mother of the Year, the promotional brainchild of Cincinnati City magazine. Nominees (who pay a ridiculous fee just for the faux honor of being nominated) are fêted for an entire year at various magazine-sponsored functions throughout the city in an effort to promote themselves as the quintessential mother, giving Cincinnati’s well-heeled a chance to vote for their ultimate Madonna. Helena never missed an event.
In September, 2012, Helena and Will were scheduled to attend an event at Cincinnati’s Contemporary Art Center (once home to the infamous Robert Maplethorpe exhibit, but I digress). It was a Tuesday night, and Helena’s regular sitter, her 16-year-old daughter Hailey, was unfortunately unable to watch the couple’s seven-year-old son, Christopher. Hailey had a party to attend. On a Tuesday night.
Never one to say no to her daughter, Helena figured that Christopher would be fine by himself at home. Hailey would have her cell turned on, of course, and Helena and Will would each have their respective cells on vibrate but within “feeling” proximity. Hailey assured her parents that she would be no fewer than five minutes from their house, and though Helena and Will would be downtown, Helena was certain that Christopher would be fine for the few short hours that he would be alone. After all, isn’t teaching children the virtue of self-reliance a hallmark of a Mother of the Year?
Christopher wasn’t so sure. He didn’t like it when Mommy and Daddy were gone at night, even when Hailey was there with him in the house (she never really was in the same room with him, but at least she was there). He still slept with his light on in his room most nights, and he didn’t like this time of year when the leaves were starting to fall off the trees outside his bedroom window because they made scrape-y noises that were scary to him. Christopher didn’t say much at dinner; Mommy and Daddy didn’t notice, and Hailey was busy playing on her phone.
Always in a nervous flurry before these types of events, Helena rushed through dinner and began barking orders to Will in an attempt to get him to hurry. She didn’t notice that Hailey had already left the house and that Christopher was sulking on the sofa watching a rerun of South Park. The couple left the house after Helena hastily scrawled hers, Will’s, and Hailey’s phone numbers in big Sesame Street-sized numbers on a piece of loose leaf paper she found in Hailey’s backpack because, well, that’s what good mothers do. She trusted that Christopher would call one of them if there was an emergency.
Once Helena and Will arrived at the venue, all thoughts of her children were blissfully erased from her consciousness because it was here that she would be introduced to Cincinnati’s preeminent citizens. Not for her were the hoi polloi that she ordinarily ran into at Kroger or while waiting in the carpool lane at her son’s school. No, it was among these majestic faces she was meant to rub elbows, to mingle and chat, to exchange dinner invitations. Helena was in her element. So transfixed was she that she never felt the phone vibrate in her small reticule clutched in her left hand. Will’s phone buzzed, too, but after several trips to the bar, so did he.
It wasn’t until she had excused herself to go into the restroom to check on her lipstick that she felt the phone in her purse vibrate. It was Hailey. She told her mother that she had had several calls from Christopher who said that he was scared and that he was hearing noises. Although Hailey offered to go home and check on him, Helena reminded her that Christopher often made up stories about hearing strange noises, and that a good mother would teach him a lesson about crying wolf. Besides, Helena had it on good authority that the party Hailey was attending was at the home of a board member of one of the city’s most sought after charitable foundations, and she couldn’t wait to hear from Hailey about what the inside of the house looked like. After all, isn’t encouraging your daughter to develop relationships with influential people part of being a good mother?
Though it doesn’t really matter at this point who arrived home at the Colby residence first, it happened to be Hailey, who would, for the rest of her life, have seared into her brain the image of her little brother’s body as it lay broken, bloodied, and beaten on the cold, bare floor of the empty garage. At this point in the story, I lack the vocabulary to describe what actually happened at the Colby home that September night—Google it for yourselves if you like. Suffice it to say that after four armed intruders broke into the home, burgled it, and murdered seven-year-old Christopher Richards Colby in one of the most brutal attacks ever investigated by the first responders and homicide detectives on the scene, Greater Cincinnati’s candidate for Mother of the Year was down one child.
Oh, there was quite an investigation. The family was questioned repeatedly about the events surrounding the break in and Christopher’s murder. The day after the murder, the local television affiliate interviewed a tearful Helena who blamed the tragedy on a violent video game she had read about online and suggested that it was this that was the impetus for the killers’ vicious actions and the eventual death of her son. Days, weeks went by with the entire community both mourning alongside the Colby family and expressing outrage at the killers’ murderous rampage. Ultimately, the killers were caught, and the community and the family could rest a little easier. But there was nothing that would bring Christopher back.
Even in her grief, though, Helena found a way to turn this heartbreak into a triumph. After all, she was still in the running for Greater Cincinnati’s Mother of the Year, and with a senseless tragedy to add to her repertoire of virtuous deeds, influential friendships earned, and exposure among the city’s most celebrated citizens, there was no reason to abandon her quest for social acceptance and virtual aristocracy.
The tragedy was too much for her husband, though—he put a gun to his head a month after his son’s murder. Well, that’s how it was reported anyway.
After a socially acceptable period of quiet mourning, Helena began making the circuit of local and national talk shows, sharing her grief over the murder of her son and the loss of her husband, and used her platform to promote her new raison d’être as the new voice for all mothers out there who have lost a child. Not surprisingly, after her well-crafted and heavily articulated year-long campaign, in January 2013, Helena Richards Colby was named Greater Cincinnati’s Mother of the Year. She had endeared herself to nearly everyone.
But not to me. I couldn’t get out of my mind the picture of her son crying out for help without thinking, why wasn’t she there? Why did she leave him home alone, helpless and frightened? Even when her daughter had expressed concern over her brother’s pleas for help, this mother was more concerned with her own social position and that of her daughter’s than she was about the safety of her son.
I am outraged that anyone lacking the fundamental judgement of a parent would deign to promote herself as the arbiter of parenthood. After she all but fed her son to the killers who ended his life, how can she even consider herself worthy of any praise or accolades, let alone the title of Mother of the Year? I am outraged that more people, not only in the Cincinnati area but throughout the country, are not as sickened by this situation as I am. Some are even going so far as to defend her actions and feel that those of us who dare question her motives are engaging in a 17th century witch hunt. But I don’t care about that. I’m more concerned about the starry-eyed boot-licking sycophants who are looking at Helena Richards Colby as the gold standard of motherhood.
Any cold-hearted excuse for a human being who can demonstrate this much arrogance, negligence, and lack of judgment and still manage to become the Democratic nominee for President of the United States Greater Cincinnati’s Mother of the Year will stoop to the lowest level imaginable in order to further her self-serving agenda.