The Ballad of Shiloh Edsitty
A sweeping story of fate, death and survival, starring one remarkable 12-year-old boy
Thu, Jan 27, 2005 (midnight)
Outside, there was a biblical downpour; inside, an unmerciful storm whose victims included a woman too young to die and her son, a Navajo boy with a placid face and 12 novelistic years of life behind him.
The tumultuous events that took place on the early morning of November 8, 2004, had begun to stir after Shiloh Edsitty had gone to bed. His biological mother, Teresa Tilden, a 31-year-old single mother born into a world of misfortune, and her boyfriend, James Valdez, whom she lived with and depended upon for financial upholding, were fighting once again. James was drunk. And so was Teresa. The tremble and thunder of their clash did not disturb Shiloh, who is like an anchored ship when he sleeps, but his mother did when she rushed into his room to ask for his help. The atrocity of the events Shiloh suffered after he came out of his room shocked local citizens when they read about it in the newspaper or heard it on television the following day—especially the image of the boy running from his apartment with a knife almost a foot long protruding from his sternum; and the improbable recovery he made in the aftermath of the catastrophe, which left him hanging on the precipice of death, swelled their hearts with both sympathy and admiration; but anybody who knew the precocious young boy was not surprised that he survived one of the most appalling bloodbaths in Las Vegas, a city that witnesses scores of murders each year.
For Shiloh—mindful, mature well beyond his years, and twice alienated by the woman who brought him into the world—had been fostered from the dawn of his life not only to endure, but also to prevail.
You could say Shiloh Jay Edsitty was born twice: once to a young woman who struggled to care for herself, let alone a child, and then to Vivian Fisher, a mother of many, with the high cheekbones, slender neck and eloquent posture of classical actresses from the decade of her childhood, the '50s. It was she who would provide Shiloh with unconditional love for the first nine years of his life and then ardent support when he asked to move to Las Vegas to reacquaint himself with his biological mother.
In regard to his second birth, Shiloh was conceived in the prayer of a 9-year-old girl. Maelena Fisher, who would later become Shiloh's big sister and closest friend, exasperated her mother on a June night in 1992 when she concluded her prayers by asking God for a baby brother. With eight children already under her wing—four of whom she adopted—Vivian could not fathom the prospects of raising another child. She asked her daughter why she would make such an implausible request, knowing that she could no longer have kids.
"I don't know how," Maelena said; and then, without a quiver in her voice: "But I know God is going to send me a baby brother."
Maelena remained firm in her avowal—and for good reason: She herself had come to the Fisher home on account of another's unwavering faith. Eight years before Maelena was born, Vivian had had an oracular dream in which the faces of three babies—one white, two brown—ingrained themselves behind her eyes and remained there—every morning, as she awoke; and every night, as she retired—until a series of events landed a white infant and a set of Mexican twins in her maternal arms. Yet the process required Vivian, a robust Mormon, to possess the same invisible conviction her daughter would display nine years later. That is, when Vivian had brought up her premonition with Frank Fisher, her husband of 11 years and the father of the four girls and two boys whom they had already raised, he opposed having any more children. But Vivian persisted. And seven years later, without preamble, her white baby appeared on her doorstep: an invalid girl with the opaque skin and lifeless eyes of a phantom. Vivian and her husband took the baby into their home, reviving the infant's health and Frank's confidence in their ability to raise more children. He told her it would be all right by him if she looked once more into the interminable pool of babies desperate for homes. So she did, in Mazatlan, Mexico, where she found her two brown faces: a set of twins, 3 months old. Vivian named the boy Marc and the girl Maelena.
And so, with this knowledge inscribed in the family's master narrative, Maelena was certain she would have a baby brother, and Vivian, despite all her misgivings, did not bury the idea.
Two weeks later, in the twilight of a July evening in St. George, Utah, where they lived, Maelena and her mom went to pick up Shiloh Edsitty, an affable infant boy in diapers approaching his first half-year of life. Vivian had received an abrupt phone call from Teresa Tilden—a former high-school student of hers with strong potential but an ungodly past whose demons, until the day she was murdered before the eyes of her only son, never ceased to haunt her—imploring Vivian for an irredeemable favor:
"I'm in jail; will you please take care of my son?"
Vivian did not hesitate; she said yes, for she had already come to know and adore Shiloh, the rotund Navajo child whom Teresa had often brought to her job at the youth services organization where Vivian was an associate—the same boy of whom Vivian had once joked with Teresa: "He is so cute! You better watch out, because I might steal him." Of course, she did not need to. After that phone call, which would start Shiloh on a path laced with twists and turns and marked by countless highs and a tragic low, Vivian had the newest member of her family and Maelena had the answer to her prayer: a baby brother.
"He never cried as a baby," Vivian says. "He was just like he is now—cheerful, happy and very peaceful."
Which was serendipity for Vivian, 44 years old at the time, in that later she would learn from Teresa's foster parents that Teresa complained Shiloh had not given her a night of rest in the five months he was at her bedside. The aura of serenity which Shiloh emitted in his new home, however, in combination with his unmistakable Navajo features—onyx hair, a triangular nose, skin like soft, unblemished wheat bread—attracted waves of adoration for the child, and in particular from Maelena, who became Shiloh's second nurturer over the next five years.
The first four of which, Shiloh woke up every day in the familial environment of Vivian's household, which she had been crafting since the emergence of her first child, nearly a quarter of a century before Shiloh was born. While an unprecedented influx of working families migrated to his hometown—St. George, Utah: a city nestled by immaculate sandstone cliffs and historically intertwined with the Mormon leader Brigham Young and his doctrine—Shiloh began to develop an inseparable relationship with Maelena, as well as many enduring features: an insatiable love for all kinds of food, and a vice for the unhealthy sort; an acute sensitivity and general inattentiveness; the inclination to make everyone happy at any cost, even to his own misfortune; restless humor; and the radiant smile of his biological mother.
Moreover, Vivian and Frank, despite their unraveling marriage, strived to ingrain in Shiloh—as they had done in all their children—two specific lessons: the importance of stability and the paramount value of family.
One day in the summer of 1996, Shiloh—4 years old, his facial features losing their Navajo salience with each passing day—was sleeping as he and his family drove to Arizona. Vivian and Frank had divorced, and she was to begin a new job as principal at Shonto Preparatory School, an institution embedded amongst the modest but immaculate Navajo hogans in Northern Arizona. As they entered Navajo territory, Shiloh awoke and nearly gave everyone in the car a heart attack with a sudden shout:
"This is my land!"
Shiloh and his family settled there, in the midst of his people but in a land far removed from his biological mother, who had found a city apt for her lurid habits: Las Vegas.
A year passed.
Then she called. Teresa had just married a man named Vince Cunningham, an Air Force officer who salvaged Teresa's trust in men and who owned property in Henderson. Teresa told Vivian that she wanted another shot at raising her son.
Vivian was heartbroken, but she obliged. For she believed that Shiloh had a right and a need to reconcile himself with his natural mother. Furthermore, Vivian had never been able to dismiss the voice deep within her heart that warned her not to trust in Shiloh's permanence, for two reasons: The Navajo nation, by and large, does not tolerate outsiders raising one of their own. The second stemmed from a loss she incurred years earlier: In her maternal arms for 17 months, Vivian had been holding Kimberly, the ghostly white baby who was the first of the trio who fulfilled Vivian's prophetic dream—until Kimberly's biological father came back to reclaim her. Vivian was devastated. She sank into the quicksand of depression and rose out of it an eternity later with part of her heart calloused. Thus, with Shiloh, her levitation was grounded by an internal whisper: I cannot do this to myself again.
That is why she was able to swallow her tears when Shiloh left for Las Vegas the summer before his kindergarten year.
Shiloh doesn't remember much from his first reunion with Teresa. Only this: Vince and his mother fought like implacable children, at all hours of the day and for an endless variety of reasons—all of which were incomprehensible to Shiloh at the time. The explosions between the couple filled the house with sound and fury and left behind an impenetrable tension; thus, Shiloh could not cross the gulf between him and the woman who gave birth to him, created by five years of separation.
Frustrated and too consumed by her own troubles, Teresa called Vivian to ask her once again if she would take care of Shiloh.
Yes—of course, Vivian said.
After one more year in Arizona, Vivian gathered Shiloh and Maelena—the remaining two in her nest—and moved to the banks of the Allegheny River in southwest New York: the heart of the Seneca Indian reservation.
For the next three years Shiloh considered his home to be Salamanca, a scenic town where trains from pioneering railroad lines used to take rest. But the reality was that he spent more than a quarter of each year with Teresa in two of America's windiest cities—Chicago and Las Vegas.
Shiloh had the good luck of escaping some snow-shoveling duties in New York at the peak of winter but the misfortune of losing out on Salamanca's inimitable summers, as he would live with Teresa, in whichever city she happened to be, during his breaks from school.
In Las Vegas, he came to detest the heat and ubiquitous partying; in Chicago, he could not bear Teresa's new boyfriend, a wealthy man named Marco, who showered Teresa's visiting son with expensive gifts he felt were aimed not at the boy but at the seduction of his vivacious mother; in either of the two cities, by the time his vacation came to an end, Shiloh could not wait to return to his spacious home in Salamanca, with his family there, irregular but dependable, and Vivian, the woman he called "Mom."
A mother of eight who had by then divorced twice but was in an autumnal love with a new man, Bo Powell, her husband today, Vivian wanted little more than to cultivate her family. And so when Shiloh was in her care—going to Prospect Elementary School (upon the written consent of Teresa, who had to authorize Vivian's temporary guardianship over Shiloh because she never officially abdicated Shiloh for adoption), following Maelena wherever she went, and ravishing through the house in an effort to discover the world—Vivian watched her youngest son as he blossomed out of his childish cocoon. All the while, Shiloh's family noticed him becoming more like Vivian: perceptive, resolute, empathetic and communicative.
What Shiloh absorbed under Vivian's care proved to be vital when he moved to Las Vegas in the summer of 2002, to live with his natural mother for good.
From the beginning to the brutal end, it was Shiloh's decision to live with his mother.
"I wanted to get to know her better," he says.
For, despite his unceasing efforts, Shiloh had not been able to penetrate the shield with which Teresa had kept everyone since her childhood at bay—not during his infancy, nor the year he lived in Henderson with her and Vince, nor the school-break visits that passed in great torrents of wind. Which is to say: In the nine years of his life, the one irreplaceable thing Shiloh needed—an intimate relationship with his mother—he had not been able to obtain.
Even in the dreadful reflection of November 8, Vivian believes that Shiloh has no regrets for either his decision to move to Las Vegas or his resolve to stay there. She says:
"It's good that he was with her; he would have always regretted it if he hadn't been."
According to Vivian, in early 2002, Shiloh had begun to exhibit signs—mainly a loss of his enchantment with the world—which she thought were associated with his yearning to see Teresa.
"We talked a lot about the second move," says Vivian, who had previously supported two of her children when they asked to live abroad while still in high school. "We thought it was for the best."
Vivian called Teresa and told her "to get her act together," because her son wanted to live with her. Teresa was not enthused.
"I had to talk her into it," Vivian says.
Nevertheless, Shiloh was on a plane to Las Vegas soon after completing the fourth grade, adamant in his resolution to draw closer to his natural mother, for better or worse. Little did he know then, on that summer flight, the storm of his misery was just starting to churn.
And just like that, Shiloh settled into his new home: unit number 2160, inside the Camden Tiara apartment complex, a labyrinth expanding over an entire residential block of one-, two- and three-bedroom living quarters, where several residents have adorned their patios or balconies with plants, flowers and seasonal decorations, and where a surreal silence envelops the gated community at both the middle of the night and the middle of the day; a community in itself, secluded behind the Memphis Championship Barbecue and Bank of America just south of Eastern Avenue and Warm Springs Road, and adjacent to the Albertson's grocery store in the Warm Springs Market Place, five miles southeast of the Strip—the place in which Shiloh would live for the next two and a half years, and the scene of his worst nightmare come true.
The apartment was initially a benefaction of Teresa's boyfriend, Marco, as was her 1999 Jeep Cherokee, the jewelry she glittered herself with when she went out, totaling more than $10,000, and much of the fashionable attire in her closet.
According to Shiloh, his biological mother did not work much; instead, she immersed herself in the roaring rapids of the Las Vegas nightlife, often drinking without limits to the great consternation of her son, who on several occasions found himself taking care of his incapacitated mother when she stumbled home in the early morning hours.
"A lot of times," Shiloh says, "I had to dress her, because she was so buzzed."
It didn't take long for Shiloh to see the reversal of roles taking form in his new home: he at times acted like the parent, and she, the kid.
"She was just like a baby," says Jennifer Le, Teresa's good friend and employer at the time of her death, who had offered to house Teresa because she understood the hardships of being a single mother and adored Shiloh like her own child.
Shiloh's only solace in those days was the many friends he made in Camden Tiara, at Jack Schofield Middle School and on the youth league football field.
With his friends Shiloh was able to act his age—a preteen with a whimsical attention span and a penchant for mischief. The boys, like Tasmanian devils, disturbed the tranquility of his apartment complex with explosive ruckus and clamor. At school he made friends with ease, and by the middle of his seventh-grade year—his Navajo features by then submerged under baggy clothes and the vernacular of hip-hop culture—half the school knew him by name. On the football field, which often served as a haven for Shiloh, he played on the defensive line, usually nose guard or tackle. And even though his greatest weakness was running, he recorded a sack, and a flamboyant celebration dance, on the very first play of his young career.
When Shiloh talks about Las Vegas now, he claims that he had never actually liked the city, and that the only reason he stayed was the same reason he went in the first place: to better know his natural mother.
Yet, according to Shiloh, Teresa made that goal impossible.
"A lot of times, when we talked, and I asked her questions," says Shiloh, who tilts his head and does not blink while either listening or talking, "she didn't know how to respond—or, she would change the subject.
"It was real hard to get to know her."
Shiloh's sister, Maelena, who lived with Teresa in Las Vegas for three months in 1998 and who was so endeared to Shiloh's biological mother that she considers Teresa a sister, says:
"Teresa was such a private person; she took everything in stride and didn't talk about her business much."
Growing up with Vivian, Shiloh had been accustomed to an affectionate nocturnal regimen: dinner, bath, stories, prayers, hugs and kisses, then bed—a routine which came to an end in Teresa's apartment.
"She wasn't real good at parenting," Shiloh says, "she didn't really know how to show love."
Teresa did know, however, its antithesis:
"She would hit me when she was buzzed," Shiloh says, his voice free of pity, free of rancor. "She used to smack me on the back of the head and kick me."
"Sometimes she would start smacking me in the face for not cleaning the room and she didn't even tell me I was suppose to."
Known to his family for wearing his heart on his sleeve, Shiloh had to erect a dam behind his tear ducts, if for nothing else than the fear of his mother's reproach when she saw his eyes well up:
"Don't cry, Shiloh! Men don't cry."
Nevertheless, Shiloh endured the ranting, the raving, the nights his mother came home in drunken rages with years of inexorable pain and anger and confusion and disparity making her head throb; and he endured the perils and responsibilities unsuitable for any boy 10, 11, 12 years old that resulted from these untamable actions; he endured it all, for though he held his mother accountable for her parental shortcomings he did not fault her. Because Shiloh understood where his mother came from.
On August 18, 1973, Teresa Mae Tilden was born the second of two sisters and one brother to an alcoholic mother and a disputed father in a hellhole on Fort Defiance—the historic Indian reservation in Arizona that rose out of the U.S. military's wish to patrol the entire Navajo country in the mid-19th century; a territory that was turned into a reservation to subdue the natives on their own homeland in 1868, after a decade of guerilla warfare whose results were disastrous for the Navajos and their frugal livelihood; the same land once named Canyon Bonito by early explorers for its surreal beauty but which has since borne its own vicious cycles—spurred by alcohol, poverty and suffocated hopes, according to several historical accounts—for nearly 150 years.
The man who gave his last name to both Teresa and her mom, Stanly Tilden, was convinced that Teresa was born out of a furtive affair between his wife and another man, according to what Teresa revealed to several people later in her life; and so he treated Teresa with obvious and unmerciful disdain. Teresa's mother, too, did not raise her second daughter with the same hand with which she raised her other children.
"My mom said that her mom used to write letters and cards to her other children," Shiloh recalls, "but she never wrote any to my mom."
Moreover, Shiloh says, "How was my mom suppose to learn to love when her mom never showed her love?
"Her mom never even told her 'I love you.'"
At first, Teresa did not object much when her mother—a woman with an unquenchable thirst for booze and loose, iron fists—sent Teresa to live with her grandmother. Only after she realized her grandmother was just an older version of her mom did Teresa become rebellious. She was sent back to her mother.
"She had a dreadful childhood," says Vivian, who would encounter the incurable symptoms of Teresa's upbringing years later, when she taught the defiant young girl at a special high school in southwest Utah for troubled youth.
Teresa despised the reservation. She would later tell this to Maelena, the adopted sister of her son who became her adopted sister, too, when she empathized with the fundamental struggles that the 15-year-old Maelena was going through, and so took her into her home in Las Vegas during Maelena's sophomore year of high school, and in effect helped the conflicted teenager to find herself. Teresa told Maelena with impassioned clarity that she hated the reservation and its pernicious atmosphere, and that all she had ever wanted to do was move on, never to return.
And, indeed, that's what she did. At the age of 11, Teresa ran away, to California, where she was on her own.
According to Kevin Van Gilder, Teresa's foster dad, she ran into an LDS (Latter Day Saints) program, which placed her in Rain Dancer Youth Services, the organization in St. George, Utah, for troubled teens where Kevin, his wife, Kathy, and Vivian were leaders.
That was the path that took Teresa to the first stable home and the only stable family she had ever known—the household of Kevin and Kathy. At the young but very seasoned age of 14, Teresa became the first of an eventual 25 destitute foster children the Van Gilders would take into their home and attempt to resuscitate.
Kevin says this of the girl who went the furthest of his bunch (she was the only one to graduate college) yet also remained the closest: "Teresa was a handful: she was rebellious, extremely private and at times unmanageable."
Teresa attended a public high school initially, but soon discovered that neither she nor the school felt that she belonged there. Thus, she was transferred to Ronald N. Hatch Academy, a specialized school for troubled Native Americans where she ran into Vivian Fisher, a teacher who would become more involved in her life than she could have ever imagined.
Looking back, Vivian says that despite the impenetrable shell with which Teresa kept her private life private, her story was quite readable: She was like a wounded puppy, and one who hadn't brought her misfortune upon herself.
Teresa at once demonstrated great intelligence and the potential to go to college, according to Vivian, and it was all the more impressive in consideration of her past.
"I grew to admire her," Vivian says.
But it took time, and plenty of patience.
"She was foul-mouthed, manipulative, conniving, obnoxious—I couldn't get through a single lesson with her," Vivian says with a smile. "She was one of my greatest challenges."
Thus, when Teresa graduated from the academy, her teachers and the Van Gilders released a collective sigh of satisfaction; yet, when Teresa announced afterward that she would be returning to the reservation, they all held their breath.
"We all knew that her part of the reservation was full of alcohol, drugs and abuse," Vivian says.
Their foreboding was later justified with news that Teresa had been partying at the reservation, had gotten pregnant and was on her way back to St. George with the man she had just married—Nedford Edsitty.
She and Nedford rented an apartment in St. George, a city in which Teresa felt her son would have the stability and comfort she had never known on the reservation.
On January 17, 1992, with Kathy Van Gilder and Nedford at her side, Teresa gave birth to a boy with crescent eyes just like hers and a tranquility in his first moments of life that had never been afforded Teresa in all the years of hers. Nedford would tell Vivian 12 years later, as Shiloh again lay dormant in a hospital bed, that he could not think of a more perfect name for his son, with his peaceful countenance, than the Old Testament name ascribed to a city and savior for the comfort they offered to a countless many: Shiloh.
Teresa loved her son, Kevin says. She told him that she wanted to break the evil chain of alcoholic and abusive parenting in her family—that same ironclad chain which had tormented her childhood and left indelible scars she was still trying to cope with. She told him that she did not ever want her son to experience the hell she had gone through.
That's why she split up with Nedford. Forever. He was a drinker—a heavy, incorrigible drinker—and she despised him for it, as she would later tell Maelena; she could not have that for her son: not for my son, she said—no, no, no; for me, OK, I've weathered it, and I can continue to endure it; but not for my son.
And that's why she called Vivian. Sitting in jail, abject and desperate, having just been arrested for credit- card fraud, thinking of her baby, a mere 5 1/2 months old, Teresa asked her to bring Shiloh into her home.
It took five years for Teresa to convince herself that she was ready to take Shiloh back and provide the safe environment she had always wanted for him and that he had become accustomed to being in Vivian's home. She had pulled herself together. She had moved out to Las Vegas—the city of redemption—to start over. There she found a good man, Vince Cunningham, an Air Force officer and sentimental photographer who had a high (though not infinite) tolerance for her combativeness and a nice house in Henderson in which they could raise a family.
After a year, however, she realized she had been wrong. She called Vivian and relinquished her son to her former teacher once again—if not for the belief that Vivian's home was the farthest place from the reservation, then for fear that she, with her chronic problems—alcohol, namely—was in essence bringing the reservation to Shiloh.
This severance, combined with the miscarriage she had the following year (while the unborn baby's father, Vince, was away in California on an assignment with the Air Force), was too much for Teresa to handle by herself. She fell into a depression, and in painstaking slowness backslid into her dissolute ways.
At about this time she met Marco. He, like many men over the years, could not resist approaching the iridescent girl when he saw her at a party on the Strip. She had just called off her marriage with Vince on account of the continuous fighting and insufferable absences, and had no problem accepting the money of her new suitor.
One thing led to another, and soon she was flying back and forth from Las Vegas—where she enrolled at UNLV and in due time obtained a bachelor's degree in sociology—to Chicago.
"I didn't really get to know her then," says Shiloh. "She was always too busy trying to impress him and she wasn't her real self."
By the time Vivian called her in 2002 to insist Shiloh wanted to know his natural mother, Teresa had spent nearly 30 years looking out for herself, yet was not confident that she could take care of Shiloh.
"She had really low self-esteem," Shiloh says.
Her bouts with alcohol continued, as did her vice for Vegas' nightlife, and she spent more time not working than working. Although she had obtained her sociology degree and wanted to get into the field of social services—for the same reason she worked as a receptionist at Rain Dancer: to give back to the services that had thrown her a life raft—Teresa professed that she needed to straighten her life before she could help straighten others.
Regardless, Shiloh arrived in the summer before his fifth-grade year, and they lived together in an upstairs apartment at Camden Tiara that insulated her drunken rages and Shiloh's despair from neighbors, friends and family for two and a half years.
"I didn't like it when she drank and I told her, 'Mom, please stop drinking,'" Shiloh says in reflection. "But she said she couldn't.
"She always said she hated the reservation because of the alcoholics, but it didn't matter because she became one too."
Despite the lamentable situation, Shiloh continued to be himself—friendly, upbeat, urbane and jovial. Priscille Duencias and Jolynn Ibanez—both of whom, like their friend Teresa before her death, are attractive middle-aged mothers with a penchant for going out—often got together with Teresa and Shiloh for family outings. "Shiloh is such a good boy, and very sweet," Jolynn says. "He's like the dream child." And Priscille: "Shiloh was always courteous, a great listener and just a really good kid. We used to tell Teresa that Shiloh was the perfect child and she would say, 'Girl, you should see his grades!'" And further: "She took good care of Shiloh and loved him very much."
Kevin Van Gilder, who saw his foster daughter's son only on rare occasions, said: "Any time Teresa was around with Shiloh, he was obedient, well-mannered, respectful, disciplined—and I think it spoke well of Teresa, because that's what she always wanted for her son. When she hadn't been in a position to raise him, she gave him to Vivian, who could."
Shortly after her son's 12th birthday, Teresa welcomed into her apartment a stout 29-year-old man whom she described to Maelena over the telephone as "hot," and "a mama's boy."
At first, Shiloh was apprehensive toward the new boyfriend. He had come to distrust the men in Teresa's life, many of whom used him as a stepping stool to get closer to his mom. But James Valdez was different, Shiloh claims. He came to the apartment with few pretensions and a genuine will to support Teresa and befriend Shiloh.
"James was a really good guy," Shiloh says, without a tremble in his voice. "He was nice, and he helped out a lot."
According to Shiloh, things became much easier on him when James was around.
"She didn't hit me when he was there, and he helped me take care of her when she was buzzed."
One of James' friends had this to say: "Man, all I know is James was all about that woman and her kid. He liked them a lot, man, a whole lot; and up until the attack—I don't even know what happened there, man—he treated them real well."
And the truth is, Shiloh says, he and his mother had been shipwrecked, staring at the harsh reality of homelessness when James offered them a rescue. In addition, James took on the brunt of the bills while he and Teresa dated, even after she began working at Lexus Hair and Nails in August 2004.
A woman who had always displayed a beautician's touch on her own elegant hands and rich black hair, Teresa found she was in her element at the beauty salon. She became good friends with her coworkers, and deepened her commitment to the field by enrolling in cosmetology school. She obtained her degree four days before her death.
According to Maelena, who called Teresa constantly from her home in Boston, New York, Teresa was pulling herself out of a rut at the turn of November, conquering the phantoms of her past, and redefining her life—and needed to do it all on her own.
Which is why she began to renounce James: She managed to keep him away from the apartment when Vivian and Bo visited in August; she denied her relationship with him in front of coworkers at the salon; with Shiloh she started a joint savings account, kept in the brittle stomach of a piggy bank in Shiloh's room, telling her son it was protection against a rainy day, or James' departure, or both; she confided to Maelena one week before her death that she was going to soon break up with him. And most telling of all: She was planning to abort her pregnancy—James'—when she suffered the second miscarriage of her life, two weeks before she was murdered.
Which is also why she made an attempt to relinquish her son, once again: Three weeks before the events of November 8, she called Vivian, asking her if it were possible to resume guardianship over Shiloh. Vivian said yes—"I'm certainly open to it, but you better ask Shiloh." In turn, Shiloh said no—"I want to stay here and get to know you."
"In her heart, Teresa loved Shiloh very much," Vivian says. "But she felt so unskilled; she didn't want Shiloh to go through the same things she did."
By that time, Teresa and James were clashing like contrary ions, and their apartment became a volatile rain cloud.
"They were always fighting, and each fight got worse and worse—until finally, that day was the worst," Shiloh says.
On Monday, November 8, at about 1:25 in the morning, Teresa and James were fighting under the cold November rain. He wanted to leave; she dragged him back into the apartment.
Moments earlier, she had rushed into Shiloh's room and awakened him, asking for his help. James is drunk, she said, and he's breaking things. Like your radio. Teresa was drunk as well; Shiloh could see it in her red eyes.
He had known it all already—the yelling, the fighting, the red eyes—he had seen it all before, but every time was like the first time, and so Shiloh came out of his room not knowing what to expect.
He stood there—4 feet, 11 inches, 120 pounds, still drowsy from his broken sleep—and the scene before him was incomprehensible: Just earlier—how long ago was it now?—they had done as they had done most Sunday nights: Shiloh watched The King of Queens; he prepared for the following day of school while Teresa made Monday plans over the phone with Priscille; they ate dinner; Teresa was ensnared by Desperate Housewives; Shiloh told his mom good night—and now, there was James and his mom and they're fighting and now, why are they fighting? and James is yelling: "I do everything for you, and you do nothing!"—and then James is asking, yelling: "Where's the phone, where's the phone?"
Teresa had hid the cellular phone in Shiloh's room, against the boy's will. James called the number to the hidden cell, heard it ring in the boy's room, snatched it and left. Teresa chastised her son: "Why didn't you turn it off!" Then she took off after James, her echo bouncing off the apartment walls behind her: "Don't leave!"
Teresa and James returned to the apartment, and the fighting continued: Teresa, by Shiloh's side, as indomitable as ever, even more brazen in her drunken audacity; and James—antsy, fidgeting in drunken anguish, at the end of his line; and then Shiloh saw him wield the knife, saying: "Don't make me do it!" Teresa grabbed the hand of her son, her only son, and she said, "I'm not scared of you, and neither's my baby." She, bold and unconquerable, just as she had to be in her childhood and just as she was in her rebellious high-school years, walked right up to James in the living room and pushed him. "I'm not scared of you," she said. She pushed him again, harder, and his wobbly drunken legs faltered; but he got up and grabbed her—Shiloh watched him grab her from the same place he had been watching it all, terrified and paralyzed in the entrance hall, between his room and the kitchen—and James held Teresa from behind, her body subdued against his, and his thick flexed arm curling around her neck, and then—
Blank: "I can't remember what happened after that," Shiloh says, his eyes contracted. "I don't know why I can't, but that's all I remember until—"
Looking down at his chest, which felt as if it were being pinched by searing, unmerciful fingers, Shiloh saw the knife, sticking out of his body and blood rushing everywhere. He was standing in the same position: in the entrance hall, between his room and the kitchen. "I fell, like timber," Shiloh says, "and I landed on my left side in the kitchen. I couldn't do anything—I mean c'mon, there's a knife in me and it's throbbin' and hurtin' and you just want to pull it out and blood's everywhere and it smells like copper"; but James moved him, dragging him across the kitchen, letting him go only to fetch more knives; and then he jumped on Shiloh, his arm going up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down!—stabbing Shiloh in the neck and right shoulder four times—the kitchen floor now deluged with blood and the air thick with a metallic stench and Shiloh could manage only one word: "Stop!" He saw James spring up and leave, to the other room, where his mother was. Shiloh could not think, propelled now only by an innate and irrevocable urge to survive, to run for his life. He tried to get up, "but it was like I was real heavy so it was real hard—it was like drunk people when they try to get up." After a few tries, he did—"I was just focused on escaping, on running out the front door and getting away; I was terrified. I mean, what would you do?"
Shiloh ran. "I could feel the blood rushing down my neck," he says, "and it's soaking my shirt: blood is not all thick like you think; it's all watery and wet. And then I got to the stairs and it was cold and pouring outside and the steps were all slippery with rain and my blood." The stairs to Shiloh's apartment descend westward, where there is a dead-end 10 yards away: a stone wall 6 feet high that separates the complex from the Memphis Championship Barbecue; and so, coming off the last stair, Shiloh made an instinctual 180-degree turn toward the leasing office at Camden Tiara's entrance. James pursued. Shiloh says, "I was running through the parking lot, and I started to get all woozy and tired and James was following me—he was running Forrest Gump style." Later, Shiloh would say that James was very fast, especially in pursuit, as he used to play football. (The road Shiloh was following toward the leasing office is flanked by apartments and bends right, about 15 yards from his apartment, then leads to a large circular driveway with four directional options: to the left, the front office, closed and vacated; to the right, the two large electronic gates by which cars enter and exit, and two pedestrian gates, the nearest of which remains open all day; straight ahead, a circular garden, followed by apartments flanking a road symmetrical to the one he was running down, and then, 20 yards away, a stone wall that separates the complex from the back lot of Albertson's grocery store; to his back, James, fewer than three yards away with a knife.) "I was screaming for help," Shiloh says, "and then I saw someone, and I said, 'Help me! James is trying to kill us.' Then James turned toward him and chased him around the flower bed and into the dark."
Shiloh—out of breath, drowsy and in utter pain—stopped.
Then he crumbled: He dropped, limb by limb, to the wet asphalt, drenched in his own blood, the butcher knife—10 inches long, broken at the shank—was still lodged in his chest. He lay there on his back, under the imperturbable downfall, twitching in pain, his consciousness fading in and out, in and out, in and out—all alone for an eternal minute.
And then flashlights. "People were surrounding me, and they kept shaking my arm every time I drowsed off," Shiloh says. "One lady [a neighbor, Teresa Valasquez] put a cloth around my neck to stop the bleeding"—and further—"it was really, really hard to breathe." While the paramedics hurried Shiloh to the hospital, he gave authorities a terse statement, incriminating James: "My name is Shiloh and I am 12 years old. James is drunk and he did this to me." The ambulance, for Shiloh, was like a strobe light: "The paramedics kept waking me every time I fell asleep. They put a mask around my face and the ride took forever."
Two days later, when Shiloh woke up, he was confused. Everything was inscrutable, his mind "was like a cloud factory," and he was lonely. He knew, however, that it was not—and had not been—a dream, because he was strapped to a hospital bed, tubes were going in and out of him, he could see countless staples in his body, his lips, palms and even the soles of his feet were cracking with dryness, his throat burned with thirst and the stinging in his stomach and shoulders was excruciating and relentless. He asked the nurses about his mother. They told him she had died, and then held his hand. Shiloh wept.
It had been a security guard, Kendall Waithe, 31, a native of New York City who had been working at Camden Tiara for less than a month and who had just finished his lunch break when he heard Shiloh screaming, who diverted James' pursuit of the boy. Waithe said that James—wearing a trench coat, blue jeans and sneakers—chased him around the flower bed (after James had pounced on the fallen boy and stabbed him once more—a version of what happened that contradicts Shiloh's recollection, which has been unchanging since his first telling of the events) and then veered off toward the Albertson's grocery store. Waithe then called 911 at exactly 1:34 a.m., according to the police report. Officers arrived 11 minutes later, and then pronounced Teresa Tilden dead, in her apartment, at 1:48 a.m. Later, the coroner would report that she died on account of multiple stab wounds.
Commander of Homicide for Metro Tom Monahan summarizes the crime scene at Camden Tiara in three words: "Bloody—very bloody." Moreover, the commander said that of the hundreds of murder cases he has encountered in Las Vegas, only a few—such as Timmy Weber's torturous slaughtering of his girlfriend and her son in 2002 and Sylvia Ewing's slaying of her two children with a baseball bat in 2003—remain vivid in his memory, and Teresa's is now one of them.
While neighbors were attending to Shiloh under the parking-lot lights and the police were flying toward Camden Tiara, James had been behind the Albertson's grocery store, in a state of utter panic and despair. He made two phone calls—one to his friends and one to his parents—in which he confessed his crime, as well as his suicidal thoughts. James' friends and his parents jumped into their cars and rushed toward the back of the Albertson's grocery store, scared that James would be the next victim of his own unprecedented surge of violence.
James' friends arrived there first. Later, they would call the police and tell officers that James had wanted to turn himself in but yielded to their cautionary advice: Go to the hospital first and get that nasty cut on your hand treated.
At about this time, Shiloh was rushed into the Level 1 Trauma Center at the University Medical Center, a stone's throw from the UMC emergency room, where James would receive treatment for the deep cut on his hand. According to UMC officials, Shiloh then underwent emergency surgery to dislodge the blade from his chest, to stop the mass hemorrhaging, and, in short, to save the seventh-grader's life.
Doctors would later report that Shiloh suffered a lacerated liver, intestine and carotid artery, a major chest wound, and a gall bladder so badly damaged that its immediate removal was imperative.
Back at the crime scene, the police, in search of James, found his parents behind the Albertson's grocery store looking for their son with just as much urgency. They complied with all the officer's requests in an effort to find and secure their son.
Hours later, having just received the phone call from the friends who dropped James off at the hospital, police hurried to the UMC to find their suspect. By then, James had been released.
They called his cellular phone, and he answered. He told officers that he was in front of Sav-On pharmacy, across the street from the hospital. Police found him there, sitting on a mound of landscape rocks, his hand wrapped, his clothes soaked in blood, slumped in a silent resignation.
They apprehended James, a man with a clean record, at 7:13 a.m., as Shiloh lay on the surgeon's table across the street in an unconscious fight for his life. James declined to answer any questions until he could see a lawyer.
The media reported the next day that a boy became an orphan while trying to save his mother's life, eliciting at once sympathy for the boy's parentless circumstance and admiration for his selfless heroism. The only problem was, none of it was true: Shiloh had a devoted mother in New York, who would not hear about her son's tragedy until four days after it occurred; and his act of heroism was not trying to save his mother but demonstrating a remarkable will to survive.
In the following weeks, the validity of both of these—his resolve and Vivian's right to mother Shiloh—would be put through severe testing.
"In the beginning, I didn't think I'd survive," Shiloh says.
Which is not surprising in consideration of the critical state in which Shiloh found himself: numerous tubes were protruding from his body—including one containing TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition) inserted in his groin to feed him a milky white fluid of nutrients, and a Foley inserted in his urethra to extract urine—and all of them made even the slightest movements unbearable; he wore an irremovable oxygen mask; monitors with indecipherable beeps and lines and numbers surrounded him; heavy sedatives kept him in and out of consciousness but did not alleviate his pain in full, nor did it assuage his throbbing memories; and his hunger, during the brief moments of lucidity, often superseded everything but his solemn loneliness. In other words, the fragments of life Shiloh was holding onto were absolutely miserable.
That was the state Shiloh was in when Maelena and Vivian walked into his room on Saturday afternoon. The evening before, Vivian had received a phone call as she was entering a grocery store in Olean, New York, the town in which she now lives. It was a call that took four days to get through. On the night of Teresa's death the coroner's office contacted Victoria Tilden, Teresa's older sister. Victoria then drove from her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Fort Defiance, to pick up her younger sister Denise and two cousins. They arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday, at which time Victoria called Teresa's foster parents, the Van Gilders, to inform them of the tragedy. Kevin Van Gilder tried to relay the news to Vivian, but did not have any contact information for her in New York. And so he called their mutual friend, Ronald Hatch, whose wife, Charla, had just spoken with Vivian on Monday and was expecting a package in the mail from her by the end of the work week, which among other things would contain Vivian's contact information. Until then: nothing. As soon as she ripped open the package on Friday, she found Vivian's cell-phone number and called it. She said: "Vivian, are you standing up?" "Yes," said Vivian. "Well you better go sit down." "OK," Vivian said, then returned to her car.
The indigestible news stunned Vivian. She drove home in utter shock.
"Then I became hysterical," Vivian says.
She entered her house in a wave a tears, and her frenzy was so intense that her husband, Bo, could not comprehend a word she said—or tried to say.
"I was wreathed with guilt," Vivian says. "Three weeks earlier Teresa had called, asking for us to take Shiloh back."
Bo tried to mollify his wife and reinstate a sense of faith in her. By the end of the night she had reclaimed enough composure to call Maelena and book a flight to Las Vegas for both of them the following morning.
"I was a wreck on Friday night," Maelena says, recalling her sleepless nightmare. "The image of Shiloh running with the knife in his chest was too much for me."
And on the interminable flight to Las Vegas the next morning, Maelena was too overcome with emotion to speak. "It was like my whole world came tumbling down," she says. "I was so mad—I kept thinking: Who could do such a thing to Teresa, to my Shiloh?"
Maelena and Vivian could not get to the hospital fast enough. After a taxi dropped them off at UMC, they expected to walk in undeterred, for Victoria had told Maelena minutes earlier that she had put her and Vivian on the short list of permissible visitors. The reality was, she had not; yet, it mattered little on that day because Victoria, who had been granted the power of gatekeeper to Shiloh's room, instructed the hospital staff to let Maelena and Vivian see Shiloh.
As they entered Shiloh's room, Vivian almost fainted. "I was lightheaded, nauseated—Shiloh had tubes everywhere and he was completely swollen—I couldn't stand, I couldn't even breathe."
And Maelena, recalling in tears:
"And there was Shiloh, in a diaper, lying there, just fighting, and Vivian could barely stand, and my heart sank—and here's this baby, a part of my life, and I used to tell Shiloh I'll never let anything happen to you and I had promised Teresa I would never let anything happen to him and my promise was broken and ... and then—and then Shiloh said, 'What took you so long?'
"I didn't want to cry in front of him," Maelena says. "Shiloh didn't need anyone to cry for him. He needed someone to be strong for him. He needed someone strong to lean on. I didn't cry until later, when we talked about Teresa. That's when I started crying. But Shiloh said: 'Don't cry.'
"That's the kind of guy Shiloh is."
Says Shiloh, "Everything started to get better after they came."
Victoria, her sister Denise and two cousins had arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday morning. Yet they were not permitted to see Shiloh until Thursday.
On account of the federal health privacy law enacted in 1996—HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability)—which prohibits hospital personnel from disclosing any information about patients or even acknowledging their presence in the facilities to anyone but the patient's confirmed family, the nurses at UMC could not acknowledge Shiloh's admittance to Victoria. They also denied entrance to several members of the community who came to visit Shiloh in the pediatric ICU upon hearing the horrific news, including some of Shiloh's friends and their mothers. (Concerned citizens would then turn to family services, setting up a charitable account for Shiloh, which in the end totaled more than $5,000 and a room full of gifts.)
In a note later published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Lacy Thomas, the chief executive officer of UMC, Las Vegas, stated:
"Hospitals must do all that they can to guard the privacy of their patients and to ensure that their medical information be kept confidential. Additionally, [Shiloh] was a witness to a murder, so an extra layer of caution needed to be maintained to protect him."
And further, he claimed Shiloh was properly attended to in those three days without family or friends.
"UMC employs three certified child-life specialists who are assigned to respond to the emotional needs of any pediatric patient who requires their services," Thomas wrote. "In this particular case, a child-life specialist was immediately assigned to [Shiloh] upon admission to the hospital.
"Therefore, at no time was the child left alone."
(Due to his status as a minor, and the fact that he was sedated and thus not lucid enough to make applicable decisions, Shiloh had no say as to who could visit him.)
"I'm sure he felt very empty," Vivian says of those three days Shiloh did not see a familiar face, yet she does not reproach the hospital for their strict upholding of HIPAA. "I know they were trying to protect him."
When Victoria was finally permitted to see Shiloh, who was still in critical condition (and would remain so into the following week), she was granted authority over her nephew's care thanks to her blood relation. The hospital did not know, however, that Shiloh had never been close to his aunt, or anyone from his mom's family, for that matter; and if given the choice, he would prefer to have nothing to do with her.
"I feel ashamed of my family," Shiloh says in regard to the roots from which his mother—and her inimical habits, he believes—derived.
Regardless, Victoria, who was not available for comment, was given the power to sign off on much of the paperwork and to establish the list of four people whom the hospital would permit to see Shiloh in the ICU. She marked herself, her sister Denise, and two people from Central Christian Church—Pastor Ray Giunia and child advocate Debbie Fontenot.
On Sunday morning, Maelena took a bus from the Ronald McDonald House, a guest home for the families of ill children in nearby hospitals, to UMC, where nurses remembered her from the day before and let her in. Shiloh was still hooked up to monitors, receiving his daily bread through tubes, completely naked save a large diaper, clogged with phlegm and blood, and on drugs. But he was doing better than the previous day.
Within a few minutes, Maelena had Shiloh laughing so hard that a nurse had to stop the fun with a dead-serious cliché: "No more, or he'll tear his stitches!" And then, just before Shiloh told Maelena—the person he says he most trusts in the world—the story of his tragic morning in a single, lucid thread, he played a practical joke on the nurse. As she started to take off one of his bandages, Shiloh let out a harrowing scream. The nurse's pulse did not return until Shiloh smiled: "Just kidding!"
When Vivian arrived on Sunday, by bus as well, she was too determined to spend every possible minute with Shiloh to attend the meeting scheduled for that night. It was to be a collaborative effort intending to decide on the next home for the boy whose only official guardian had died.
"Shiloh had already spent enough time alone," Vivian says. "There was no question I was going to stay by him."
Instead, Maelena went to the meeting. Pastor Ray was there, as was a Mormon bishop. And Victoria participated, too.
The solutions the small assembly produced astonished Maelena, if not for their irrationality then for the overt ignorance behind them.
"They didn't even know Shiloh: They couldn't say what my brother's favorite color is or who his favorite singer is," Maelena states, "but they were going to decide his future?!"
The group suggested putting Shiloh in the hands of the Navajo nation, unaware of the lifelong vehemence with which Teresa wished for Shiloh to never see the reservation. They also suggested Teresa's foster parents, the Van Gilders, despite the couple's unfamiliarity with Shiloh. And Victoria suggested that Shiloh live with her in New Mexico, which outraged Maelena.
"Vicky didn't care for Shiloh; she left him all alone most of the time she was in Las Vegas," Maelena says. "She kept saying, 'I just want to go home.'"
Vivian also became nauseous when she heard Victoria wanted Shiloh. She says:
"Victoria had no desire to take Shiloh until she heard about all the money and gifts that had been donated to him."
In addition, Victoria had had her own kids taken away by social services before, Maelena claims.
At the end of the meeting, Maelena made herself clear: Shiloh needs to return to us, his family.
Victoria made herself clear, too, as she said to Maelena, "I'm limiting your visiting time with Shiloh to one hour a day."
The next day, however, Maelena and Vivian found to their great anguish that Victoria had written a note with strict instructions for the hospital staff to prohibit Vivian, Maelena and Marc (Maelena's twin brother, who had just driven in from Wyoming) from seeing Shiloh.
And so they did not see Shiloh for an entire day. Victoria, moreover, made it so Vivian, Maelena and Marc had to jump hurdles and slide through doors to see Shiloh on Tuesday. And the hospital staff did not make it any easier, adhering to UMC policies with inflexible rigor and abrupt denials, even on the two occasions when Shiloh articulated in front of everyone that he wanted to see his brother and would not submit himself to another test unless his sister was there next to him.
Having reached the peak of her tolerance, Vivian called for a social worker on Tuesday; and then she phoned the police, who promised to rectify the situation when they visited her, Marc and Maelena on Wednesday morning.
On Wednesday afternoon, Vivian received a call from detectives working on Shiloh's case and they told her that the list was now in Shiloh's control. "We're standing here next to Shiloh," detective Jimmy Vicano said, "and we asked him if he wanted to see you. He said, 'Of course!—they're my family.'"
Victoria departed Las Vegas that day, but not before excavating Teresa's apartment and taking off with everything of value, including the piggy bank in which Shiloh and Teresa had been saving money: more than $400, Shiloh says.
On Thursday, Toni Marcune, the social worker assigned to Shiloh's case, told Vivian that she should get a lawyer and apply for guardianship over Shiloh, and that there was no reason why she couldn't win in a court case. For Vivian Powell has a doctorate in education and is a veteran of motherhood who has been intertwined with the Native American culture for many years. Yet, Vivian hopes the greatest advocate in her attempt to obtain permanent guardianship over Shiloh will be the nine years she raised him in which he became mature enough to understand and endure his abusive biological mother and strong enough to survive the attack of November 8, and the three weeks she stuck fast to his bedside day and night as he recovered in the hospital.
Vivian, who had always been an unofficial guardian of Shiloh—for Teresa had never authorized an official adoption—says: "I had always presumed I couldn't because I'm not Navajo."
Vivian obtained a lawyer the next day, and on December 1 she won temporary guardianship without the slightest resistance from the Navajo nation, which did not respond to paperwork the court had sent them.
Yet Vivian is preparing to encounter a battle when she returns to Las Vegas on February 1 to seek permanent custody of her son. Especially due to a conversation she had with Linda Gray, the president of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce, in which Vivian was told it would be difficult to obtain permanent guardianship. Gray—who had not known either Teresa or Shiloh when she heard the news of their brutal attack but was moved by a presentiment that they, like her, were American Indian, and thus put down more than $1,300 to have Teresa's body transported to the mountains of Fort Defiance, where Teresa received a proper Navajo burial on November 20—also told Vivian that she would help her secure custody of Shiloh by any means within her power.
In addition, the Navajo nation contacted Marcune, seeking information for Shiloh's custody hearing.
During his next two weeks in the ICU, Shiloh ate nothing but Jell-O and soup, filled his bedpans with crimson vomit and deep red stools, and underwent a surgery to treat internal bleeding derived from intense emotional stress: an ulcer—the physical manifestation of Shiloh's struggle to cope with his mother's death, according to Vivian. He endured those two weeks by means of Monopoly and Connect Four with Vivian, spontaneous and perpetual jokes, and a steady influx of visiting family and friends—including Coach Delano, the defensive line specialist from Shiloh's football team, who gave Shiloh a signed T-shirt from one of his mother's friends, basketball star Shaquille O'Neal; Pastor Ray, whose church is a Sunday oasis for baseball legend Greg Maddox and who thus gave Shiloh a signed photo from the all-star pitcher; and Nedford Edsitty, the man who gave Shiloh his name but not much thereafter.
It was the first time Nedford had seen his son in 12 years. He had come from his home in Kayenta, Arizona, for Shiloh's initial custody hearing, scheduled the day before Thanksgiving, but arrived too late. After he visited in private with Shiloh in the sterility of his boy's ICU room, Nedford met with Vivian. He said: "I can see Shiloh doesn't want to go with me, but I would like to see him during the summers, to develop a relationship with him." Vivian said yes—she heartily supported Shiloh's reconciliation with his father—but, just like she told Teresa, it was up to Shiloh in the end. Nedford's sister, who had made the trip to Las Vegas with Nedford, soon thereafter pulled Vivian aside and said that the Navajo nation had already taken his three daughters away. Later, Toni Marcune would do a background check on Shiloh's father and report to Vivian: "If Shiloh were my son I wouldn't let him spend a night with Nedford without supervision"—and further—"the Navajo nation won't give his kids back to anyone in the family because they are all alcoholics." (On Christmas Day, Nedford called Shiloh about arranging a visit and received his disheartening answer: no.)
Shiloh was released from the hospital on December 1, after 29 days at UMC. He was sore, tired, and 20 pounds lighter than a month before; moreover, he had the impatient hunger of a bear waking from hibernation. Of course, Vivian brought him to Verrazano Pizza, his favorite restaurant, where in great delight Shiloh ate food that would not stay down.
"I didn't even care," says Shiloh, his dignity intact. "It was worth it."
Afterward, they went to Camden Tiara. Vivian asked Shiloh if he wanted to go in with her. Shiloh hesitated.
Then he said yes.
"The place gave me the heebie-jeebies," Shiloh says.
Vivian was overwhelmed by the mess she saw as she opened the front door. "The place had been ransacked," Vivian says. "And Victoria had taken everything."
Only furniture and items too large for Victoria and company to take back in their car—and in Teresa's 1999 Jeep Cherokee—remained in the apartment. Shiloh's treasured PlayStation was gone, as were his photo albums containing irreplaceable pictures of him and his mother.
Furthermore, the carpet and wallboards had been ripped out, yet a trail of blood remained on the porch, and Shiloh's backpack, stained with the dark red vestige from his last experience in that apartment, was left out in the open.
"At that point I felt overwhelmed by the situation," says Vivian. "I didn't know what we were going to do with all the furniture and leftovers."
Shiloh offered a solution: "Let's give it away."
According to Vivian, he wanted to donate it all to a shelter for abused women, but a few days later Pastor Ray found a woman who had been living with her two children in a car. Yes—yes, yes, yes! Shiloh said. Pastor Ray said he and the church would pack it all and deliver it to the woman's new apartment, paid for by the church.
The pastor—a man whose parents had been killed when he was young—also led the Central Christian Church in adopting Shiloh for Christmas. They gave the boy, and Vivian, an early Christmas gift on Friday, strolling Shiloh around the mall on a respectable shopping spree while Vivian spent the day boxing up all the things left over in the apartment to be shipped to her home in New York. The boxes and shipping materials had been donated by Fed-Ex and were shipped to New York on Saturday.
Vivian and Shiloh boarded a plane on Saturday also, though not to New York as the daily newspapers had reported, but to Utah, where Vivian's parents and other family members live. There Shiloh got to saturate in the only attention he seeks: love.
One week later, Shiloh and his mom flew cross country to his new home—Olean, New York, a historic town with white winters and fertile autumns remembered for their broad spectrum of heart-stopping colors; where cars rarely exceed 30 miles per hour and receive deprecating looks from townspeople when they do; and where dynastic houses—tall and wooden, with inhabitable attics and porches built with the aim of watching the sun fall over great bouts of gossip—stand at comfortable distances from one another, allowing each residence to breathe in its fair share of the surrounding woodlands. Ninety miles southwest of Buffalo, it is a city where the people are so peaceable that the crime report in The Times Herald, Olean's daily newspaper, contains terse reports such as: "Mark G. Williams reported he lost his blue Nokia cell phone between Wednesday and Thursday."
In other words, the city of Olean is the polar opposite of Las Vegas.
Sunday, January 9, 2005:
It's white outside, and of course it's cold. Shiloh walks into his home—which is no longer new in his eyes, as kids tend to be quite adaptable and Shiloh more than most. He removes his coat because the house is warm and comfortable. As ever, he's eager to joke with Bo, the man who in good faith has taken over the role of father with Shiloh and whose habits and language Shiloh has already adopted. "What is that, dude?" Bo says, looking at the fresh scrapes on Shiloh's forehead. "I had a snowball fight with the elders before church," Shiloh says, smiling, anxious to eat lunch or watch SpongeBob Squarepants or master video games or play ping-pong. "It's nothing." Vivian had been the worried one. Shiloh took it in stride, as most kids do, and came home with yet another scar on his body.
Still pink and tender, the scars from Shiloh's six stab wounds continue to irritate him. One extends from beneath his ear toward the middle of his throat; another, down his entire abdomen. According to Vivian, the worst of his scars—and the most indelible—is the slice across his heart.
"He misses his mom," Vivian says. "A lot."
Shiloh had been complaining about headaches when he arrived in New York, but when Vivian took him to the doctor's office and his physician diagnosed the pains as post-traumatic syndrome, Shiloh never mentioned another word about them.
He will return to Las Vegas on February 1, when Maelena—who is now the proud parent of an angelic 20-month-old daughter named Alayna and who says that if she has another daughter, natural or adopted, she is going to name her Teresa—will sing at the memorial to be held for Teresa Tilden at the Central Christian Church in Henderson.
"I forgive my mom," Shiloh says, "because her mother drank a lot and was all abusive and stuff, and when you don't learn right from the start you don't come out the same. I know she loved me; and I love her."
Shiloh says he will also return to Las Vegas to testify against James—who remains behind bars at the Clark County Detention Center, without the possibility of bail, on three charges: murder, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon—only if James' conviction depends on it.
"I don't think James knew what he was doing, and I still appreciate everything he did for me and my mom," Shiloh says. "But I don't forgive him for killing my mom."
Come nighttime he sleeps with the comforter and pillow his mom slept with in Las Vegas. Tomorrow he will rise with the lethargic winter sun and walk to school, where he is completing the seventh grade.
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