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The End of the World, by Larkin Vonalt

(Larkin Vonalt is a writer living in Ohio and until today she was simply a long-time reader of the True Crime Weblog. This well-written contribution is thoughtful, detailed, and tells one of the saddest true crime stories you may ever read. Though her first post here is sad, Larkin’s jump from the comments section to a blog post is truly most welcome. I’m sure you’ll see why I say that once you read the following. ~ Steve Huff)

On a warm spring afternoon, Maple Hill Avenue is alive with activity. A man edges his lawn, a small boy pedals his Big Wheel the length of a short driveway, a woman up the street is planting flowers. Somewhere a radio is playing and Brenda Lee’s voice floats on the soft spring air: “I can’t understand/I can’t understand how life goes on the way it does…” The winding tree-lined street is home to well-kept houses set in tidy yards. Number 642, near the crest of the hill, is not unlike its neighbors in that respect. Less than two years ago, it was a very different story.

July 13, 2006 was a warm and damp Thursday. Just before one o’clock the young mother living in the small brick ranch house ran outside to the neighbors’. Her house was on fire; her children were trapped inside. When the afternoon was over, her baby girl was dead, her young son airlifted to a Cincinnati hospital. The boy died two days later. By that time his parents had been arrested — his mother for murder and aggravated arson, his father for rape of a child under ten. A juvenile court judge allowed the father to remain free just long enough to see his young son draw last breath.

*****

Heather Boyd of Kokomo, Indiana and Doron Silverman of Indianapolis met online in 2001. Heather’s mother, Debra R. Boyd, in an interview with the Dayton Daily News, described the young couple as “soul mates.” Kokomo is only 60 miles from Indianapolis, the couple soon met in person. In July 2001, they married at the courthouse and moved into the Indianapolis home of Doron’s adoptive parents, Martin and Deanna Silverman. He was 20; Heather had just turned 19 and was two months pregnant.

Only 4 foot 11 inches tall, and a little plump, Heather Silverman is childlike. Classmates at Taylor High School describe her as “really nice” and “sweet.” Doron Silverman had a juvenile conviction at age 13 for molesting a 5-year-old child. His adoptive sister, Batya, had leveled an accusation of rape against her brother. There is nothing to indicate that Heather was aware of her husband’s history. However, Batya’s enmity towards her brother and his wife is evident in statements she made to the press.

“They lived in my parents’ home while they were married and while she was pregnant with Mikel,” Batya Silverman, 22, told the Dayton Daily News. “My parents provided them with everything.” Her infant nephew, Mikel, born February 2002, shared her bed at the Silverman home.

“From the day I got back from Israel [where she had spent her freshman year of college — Ed.] Mikel was sleeping in my bed. Heather blamed not wanting to be with him on postpartum depression. But she did not bond with that child.”

Doron Silverman had worked at Chuck E. Cheese’s Restaurant in Indianapolis, where he repaired and maintained computer games. Doron was hired when the same job opened at a Dayton franchise, so the little family moved there.

They settled on the south edge of Dayton in the predominantly white West Carrollton. Though considered a suburb, West Carrollton, established 1815, retains its own identity and small-town atmosphere. Many young families make it their home. Doron and Heather bought their house on Maple Hill for $93,000.

Heather found a job at Meijer’s grocery store a few miles away. She worked until August 2005, when morning sickness from her second pregnancy forced her to quit. Heather developed an online presence, creating profiles on MySpace as mystic_kitten82 and on Grab.com and health.exercisefriends.com as babkitten7. She also had a largely unused profile on stupidvideos.com. Her favorite video was of a dancing cat.

On the Grab.com profile, she posted that she was “A stay-at-home mom with one child and one on the way. I also sell Avon.” In one section, she detailed her desires to “Support our troops, save animals, eat vegetables, sing, Be a Great Mom, relax, cook, find friends, play computer games.” The site also reveals that she was looking for friendship and that she hoped that “The world will one day realize that we are destroying our children’s only chance for life by destroying the world.” She posted five photographs of her son, Mikel. The couples’ daughter, Keylee Selena, was born March 6, 2006 in Dayton.

On Memorial Day weekend, Doron, Heather and their children went to Indiana to visit family and attend the Indianapolis 500. Arrangements were made for Mikel to stay overnight with his Aunt Batya and her boyfriend, Joseph Farber.

Court documents allege that after spending the afternoon swimming at the pool in his Aunt’s apartment complex, Mikel was getting ready for a shower when Batya Silverman noticed him “pulling on his penis.” Batya claims that the child, while pointing to his penis, said “Poti, put your mouth on it.” “Poti” was the child’s nickname for his aunt.

Farber was called into the room. When he asked the child about the remark, Mikel did not answer. Farber launched a series of questions: had Mikel seen that behavior in a movie, or had he seen his parents engaged in “such behavior?” In each instance, Mikel said he had not. When Farber asked the boy where he’d learned the behavior, Mikel is reported to have said, “Daddy did it. No more talk.”

Batya Silverman was an undergraduate student in social work and had just completed a class on techniques for interviewing children. The next day she sat Mikel down with pens and a notebook, serving him lunch while she questioned him about the events of the day before.

Batya testified at an evidentiary hearing that after revisiting the queries her boyfriend made, she and Mikel had this exchange: “‘Do you do it to daddy too?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Well, what do you do to daddy’s pee pee?’ And he didn’t respond to me. So, I asked him, ‘Do you kiss it?’ And he very clearly replied, ‘No, I lick it.'”

Batya Silverman asked her boyfriend to watch Mikel, and went to her parents’ house to await her brother’s return from the Indianapolis 500. Heather and Doron arrived to an impromptu “intervention” with Batya, Deanna Silverman, Cindy Rottinghouse (Doron’s biological mother) and Pam, a friend of Cindy’s.

According to court documents, Batya confronted her brother with what Mikel said. When Doron didn’t respond, she accused him of molesting her years before. Doron said that he didn’t remember molesting Batya and he fled the house with Heather following, Batya on their heels. Heather asked Doron if he had “done anything” to Mikel.

“Maybe I did, I don’t remember these things,” he said.

The Dayton Daily News reported that the day after the “intervention,” Heather Silverman characterized her mood as “angry” on her MySpace blog.

“If I collected my tears thru my life they would fill the Grand Canyon,” she wrote. “Be kind to others, be good, don’t lie, don’t injure, always ask before accusing, always love and care, never ever yell it never helps.”

In a collective decision, Cindy Rottinghouse took Keylee and Mikel for a week, intending to hand them off to Deanna and Martin Silverman for ten days “so that the children would be safe, and Doron could get help,” Batya Silverman testified. However, on June 5 Batya discovered that the children had been returned to their parents rather than following the prescribed plan. She called Childrens’ Services in Montgomery County, Ohio.

Based on Batya Silverman’s complaint, Childrens’ Services enacted a “safety plan” for the Silverman family, which forbade Doron Silverman’s presence in the home, and also stipulated that he “not be around children.” Silverman continued to work at Chuck E. Cheese, as his job maintaining gaming systems didn’t require interaction with children. He moved from the Maple Hill house to a Red Roof Inn in a neighboring town.

Five days after her call to Childrens’ Services, Batya Silverman complained to the West Carrollton police department. Detectives Mark Allison and Robert Bell launched an investigation, starting the next day with a visit to the Silverman home. They spoke with Heather, who agreed that she and Doron would appear for questioning at the West Carrollton police department the next day.

Heather and Doron were interviewed separately, Heather first. Some specifics of the interview with Doron Silverman have been contested in Silverman’s appeal to the state Supreme Court, though initially both parties agreed that Doron Silverman “admitted to having Mikel’s penis in his mouth while in the bathtub with him and to fondling his son.”

Bell testified in a hearing in the Montgomery County Court that Mikel “would crawl over (Silverman’s) naked body like ‘a jungle gym’ and sometimes touch his father’s genitals.” Silverman told the detectives he was so distressed by his behavior with his son that he sought counseling and avoided seeing his son naked. He also offered that he would have to resign his job at Chuck E. Cheese as he was “sexually interested” in the children he observed there.

Doron Silverman left his job the very next day, June 14. He met with the restaurant manager, explaining that he was under investigation, due to a “child abuse” complaint made by his “in-laws,” and that Childrens’ Services stipulated that he was “not to be around children.”

Later that day, detectives appeared at the Silverman’s motel room, wanting to search his laptop computer. They were rebuffed, according to an affidavit filed in the case. On June 21 a search warrant was issued and police searched the couples’ house, vehicles and motel room. Among the items seized were cell phones, a computer, a video recorder, computer disks and a “nanny-cam” that was in one of the bedrooms.

Twice the West Carrollton police department interviewed Mikel Silverman. Jeffrey Rezabek, Heather Silverman’s attorney in the child abuse case, stated that after both interviews there were allegations that the boy was being “coached.” The “safety plan” put into place by Childrens’ Services was due to expire Thursday night, July 13. Rezabek believed Childrens’ Services planned to seek custody of the children at a hearing, as caseworkers felt that Heather would not sign another “safety plan.”

In the days leading up to the July 13 deadline, Heather went online to ask for prayers. The Dayton Daily News quoted writing from her My Space page: “I ask of any (and) all to pray for our family. It is being ripped apart and I’m gonna lose everything.” She did not disclose exactly what was going on, but her distress was clear.

On a rainy Thursday a caseworker from Childrens’ Services visited the Maple Hill house to tell Heather that a hearing was scheduled in Juvenile Court that afternoon at 3 p.m. The agency would be seeking custody of the children. Heather was reported to be “cooperative” and mentioned that she might bring her attorney to the hearing.

Heather Silverman then set out candles in the bathroom. Later she told investigators she was preparing to take a shower. Wrapping gasoline soaked rags around the lit candles, she closed the door. The Dayton CBS affiliate reported that she closed the children inside the bathroom, but this was never confirmed in print media or in any court document; it may have been a leap made by the television station.

News reports state that Heather helped her son to the front door, where he was rescued by J.W. Lunsford, a mover working in the neighborhood. Lunsford grabbed the boy and ran across the street with him. Mikel sat on the grass in shock, his body and clothing smoking. Heather Silverman was treated at the scene for burns on her hands, said to have occurred while she was trying to extricate Keylee from her infant seat. Sarah Busby, a neighbor, tried to get into the house to save the baby, but was prevented by flames and smoke. Her mother, Pattie, across the street, made a desperate call to 911.

Mikel, 80 percent of his body covered with second and third degree burns, was airlifted to Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati. Despite many attempts, no one could get to Keylee Silverman and she burned to death inside the house. Her tiny body was removed after the fire was extinguished.

On Friday, the police department issued an arrest warrant for Heather Silverman. She was taken into custody at her son’s hospital bedside. On Saturday, a warrant was issued for Doron Silverman on the child rape charges, but he was allowed to stay with Mikel in the child’s last hours. He was said to be holding Mikel’s hand when the boy died.

Batya Silverman learned of her nephew’s death by reading about it online, even though Cincinnati is only 110 miles from her residence in Indianapolis. She told Dayton reporters that she believed Heather had killed her own children to prevent Batya from “getting” Mikel.

Cathy Mong, of the Daily News, wrote that Batya “painted a picture of Heather and Doron as parents who were cold and aloof, manipulative and emotionally needy, a mother and father who never bonded with their children.” Along with unsubstantiated charges that the children were malnourished, the aunt told the reporter “Neither of them deserved a child so exceptional,” and that “(she) would have gone there and died for him.”

In sharp contrast, Debra Boyd remembers her daughter and son-in-law as attentive and interested parents. Her recollections are of a doting couple, devoted to their son, and thrilled with their new baby girl. Though both families saw the couple frequently, and Batya Silverman described her family as “supportive” of her brother, all were absent when the chips came down.

In the months after the fire, numerous Internet groups turned their attention to the Silverman tragedy. One group, VOCA (Voices of Children Alliance) engaged in ending what they see as Gestapo tactics of childrens’ welfare organizations, decided that Heather Silverman had killed her children ‘pre-emptively,” to prevent their loss to the system. A white supremacist group blogged, “Jewish Parents Rape and Kill Children.” (Doron Silverman’s adoptive parents are Jewish, but Heather and Doron are not.) On sites like Websleuths and Mydeathspace, posters called for the rape, mutilation and murder of both Silvermans. The D.A., Mathias Heck, issued a statement calling the Silvermans “evil and twisted” and cast aspersions on the media for their “sensationalist” coverage.

Heather Silverman’s case was assigned to Christopher Tucker, a public defender. She was examined by two independent psychiatrists, found to be not competent to stand trial, and remanded to Twin Valleys Behavioral Health Center for six months.

Doron Silverman stood trial in December 2006 and was found not guilty of rape, but guilty of gross sexual imposition on a person under thirteen years of age. He was sentenced to five years in prison. In February of this year, the state Supreme Court heard his case on appeal, overturning his conviction on the basis that the testimony on Mikel’s behalf was hearsay made by an admittedly hostile witness. He has been released from custody.

Heather Silverman was re-examined a year ago and found to be competent. Her trial was to begin this week. However, on April 23, she went before the court and pled guilty to the murder of her two children.

Now there are only questions. Was Heather Silverman planning to immolate herself in the fire as well? Were her actions some kind of terrible manifestation of post-partum depression? Did she kill her children to save her husband? Even if we know the answers, it doesn’t change the facts.

Two small children are dead. A woman who wanted to be “a great mom” has committed a terrible crime and will say no more. A man convicted of gross sexual imposition on his four year old son walks free.

And in the Silvermans’ old neighborhood, the radio plays Brenda Lee:

Why does my heart go on beating

Why do these eyes of mine cry

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world

It ended when you said goodbye.

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