Those who knew Chandler Grafner described him as a sweet and thoughtful little guy. He was shy, yet tender in spirit. The kind of boy who would pick flowers for his babysitter.
Which is amazing considering how Chandler’s brief life was nothing short of a living hell. By the time he reached age seven, Chandler’s home life was nothing more than a revolving door of unconventional living situations. His mother, Christina, bounced around between a number of men, including a stint with boyfriend Jon Phillips with whom she bore another son, Dominick.
Not long after Christina’s relationship with Jon failed, Christina lost custody of her boys amidst charges of neglect. Jon and his new common-law wife, Sarah Berry, agreed to care for Chandler and Dominick. In May of 2007, life went from bad to worse for Chandler.
According to published accounts I’ve read, for reasons that are not clear Chandler was locked in a tiny closet where he was left to defecate in his pants. Worse, Chandler was ultimately starved to death while trapped in that dark prison. When paramedics were called to the apartment in South Denver to resuscitate Chandler, he weighed just 34 pounds. He died of cardiac arrest.
Last week a jury took about three hours to convict Jon of first-degree murder and fatal child abuse. I don’t know about you, but when I read stories such as this I’m grieved–and angered. It’s beyond me how anyone who calls themselves a father could willfully starve a helpless child to death. My heart also breaks over what Chandler must have experienced. I cannot fathom the fear this precious child felt during the final hours of his living nightmare.
While the overwhelming majority of foster home environments involve parents who lavish love on needy children, even one child raised in a home with abuse is unacceptable. I’m sure you’d agree that every child deserves a safe, loving place to call home. A place where they can laugh, play, learn, grow, and thrive as a young image bearer of God.
Against the backdrop of Chandler’s tragedy, last week I flew to Atlanta to participate in the work of the World Children’s Center (WCC). This fine organization believes that “no child should be denied the most fundamental of human rights–to be fed, sheltered and educated.” To that end, they have an aggressive ten-year plan to construct a 710 acre community to house and care for children ages 2-8 who are orphaned, homeless, abused or neglected. I especially resonate with their mission since it dovetails with my personal story.
While it’s too late to do anything for Chandler, there’s an abundance of opportunities–such as partnering with WCC–to see that what happened to Chandler never happens again. Let me also say that if you find yourself overwhelmed with the difficult task of parenting, please contact us at Focus on the Family. We’re here to provide resources that can help you and your family not just survive, but thrive.