A Letter to Mohawk

Below is an email that I wrote to Mohawk Trail Regional High’s superintendent and co-principals. I am posting it publicly because I think that it is critical to remind the community that the latest accounts of abuse by Colin Garland are actually not unusual. Unfortunately, he is the third in a string of predators affiliated with Mohawk to have such testimonies brought against them in recent years.

Together, we must reevaluate the policies in place and hold our community accountable for the safety of our children.

Note: One former teacher’s name has been redacted, though not in an effort to protect him. Unfortunately, addressing my experience with him more explicitly than this requires more emotional labor than I able to invest right now. If you are from my small town, you can probably guess to whom I’m referring. You’re probably right.

 

Superintendent Buoniconti and Co-Principals Dole and Mendonsa,

I am writing to you in regards to the recent publicization of the abuse perpetrated by Colin Garland, owner of Raven Adventures and Global Classroom. I, like many other students at Mohawk, was introduced to Colin via Will Kiendzior, who allowed him to come into the classroom and tout his trips to remote parts of Africa and Central America. If you have not heard the accounts that recently came to light, I highly encourage you to do so, if only to understand the type of person that has been allowed not only into your school, but permitted to take your students to secluded areas of the world. I truly hope that this man is no longer affiliated with Mohawk, or if he is, that you will immediately cease allowing him contact with your students. Although I did not personally experience assault at the hands of Colin Garland, I can attest to his other manipulative and abusive behaviors. I detailed them in my personal blog here: https://lustyglutton.com/2016/09/11/shaman/   Included in that post are links to two other testimonies of young women who were groomed, manipulated, and raped by Colin Garland.
There is no question that these accounts are disturbing. However, it is not as alarming when one realizes that allowing this is not the first time Mohawk has allowed these type of predators close daily interaction with their students. As I said to [former teacher]after he confided in me that he had slept with his third former student: this is now a pattern.
I have grown increasingly concerned when considering Mohawk’s relationship with Colin Garland, especially as I took into account the past actions of [former teacher] and of the recent news regarding Ivan Grail, the former social studies teacher who is under investigation for his inappropriate conduct with his students. I am puzzled as to why the amount of predatory men allowed such close contact with your students has seemed to remain consistently high under your watch.
I was personally groomed by both [former teacher] and Colin Garland as a student at Mohawk and it has taken me years to realize the severity of these situations. Although it was common knowledge that these two men would meet with students outside of school hours or property, their actions were never questioned and certainly never put to a stop. It is disturbing to me that it was only my guardian, a lawyer and former social worker, who seemed suspicious of [former teacher]‘s actions. She believed that he was ultimately interested in developing a sexual relationship with me and the other young girls to whom he paid such special attention. Unfortunately, she was right. How can an institution charged with the welfare of so many children overlook so many warning signs?
I ask you to seriously consider the manner in which you are vetting your prospective teachers, faculty, and chaperons. It appears that whatever systems you have in place at the moment are simply not working to the extent that is necessary for the safety of your students. Furthermore, I ask that you make public a written policy regarding appropriate conduct for your staff and chaperons in terms of their interactions with students, including any revisions that may be needed. I also ask that you write and make public a list of what  constitutes these inappropriate behaviors to be distributed to students so that they may understand what is unacceptable and unethical coming from staff. Additionally, students should know their rights and resources should they ever encounter such issues.
I am hoping that you take these suggestions to heart so that we may see a change in the environment at Mohawk and change its reputation. It has been truly heartbreaking to realize that although I was initially dismayed that my little sister did not attend the same highschool I did, I believe she was ultimately safer for not doing so. Please: attend seriously to this issue.
Sincerely yours,
Marie Billiel
Class of 2007
Superintendent Buoniconti has invited me to call him with my proposals for policy revisions. I urge you to address this grievous issue as well and to make your suggestions and concerns heard. Matters like this reach much further than just a few; their effects bleed into the entire community. Let the reflection of who we are come from the steps we take to mend.
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The Shaman

I recently came across an open letter to a man I once thought I knew. His name is Colin Garland, the owner of Raven Adventures/The Global Classroom.

The letter, written by a woman only two years my senior, details the multiple encounters she had with Colin, all of which were manipulative and abusive, and many of which involved rape.

It was a challenging read. However, the difficulty did not lay in struggling to believe the author’s account of her experience with Colin. Instead, I was forced to sit with the pain that came with remembering my time with this man and how all of his actions fit so neatly into the pattern of abuse described by the author. There was no relief in the realization that my gut instinct over our last few interactions had been correct.

I met Colin through my highschool ecology teacher Will Kiendzior. We dedicated a class to showcase the myriad adventures Colin had been on in Costa Rica and Mexico. We were invited to embark on his annual trip with students from my highschool to Central America to explore and learn about his conservation efforts.

Yesterday, before his website was taken down, I scrolled through all the pictures of former students, all about 16 years old. Some I knew personally. I wondered how many have had similarly alarming and abusive experiences with him. I felt sick to my stomach.

Admittedly, it was not my time spent with Colin in Mexico that makes me uneasy. Though tainted now, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Still, I have a distinct memory of affection and praise with which he showered my best friend. He marveled at the symbols she drew in the sand, saying they were rich with meaning and that she was clearly in tune to something greater. After we got home, she spent weeks corresponding with Colin through email. I was envious of the attention she received. I was frustrated that he didn’t see that I too felt I had something deep, primal, and attuned to something beyond myself.

Six years later I was in Israel when I received a message from Colin, telling me that I had been on his radar. He told me that he had been thinking of me for a long time but had hesitated to reach out. We made plans to see each other the next time he was back in Massachusetts.

In the time before he made his return I began to confide in him about my history of depression and the difficult childhood that had led me there. In fact, I later posted a short series on this blog entitled “Letters to Colin” that I copied from those letters that unreservedly and unapologetically detailed my disjointed upbringing and early introduction to mental illness. It was clear that I sought to heal in some way and Colin appointed himself the one who could do it.

It wasn’t long after that that he told me I was a woman coming into my power. He told me tales of my psychic ability. He urged me to travel with him, to allow him to teach me the ways of a healer. He spoke of Native American customs, of the medicine wheel, of shapeshifting. He told me that I simply hadn’t made love until both me and my partner had shifted into the form of a dolphin. He of course, was the one to teach me.

I remember that he was hesitant that I wanted to bring my boyfriend the night I agreed to come to his house for a healing session. I remember that up to that point, and for some time after our messages on Facebook somehow made me uncomfortable. In nearly every message he told me how much he loved me and how beautiful I was. I pushed my misgivings aside. After all, Colin was a Healer and wanted to help me. I was certain that the issue lay within myself; I wasn’t used to being loved so purely. I wasn’t being open. I needed him to heal me. I thought of the time I had heard that Colin had slept with a former classmate of mine, nearly 30 years his junior. I pushed the thought out of my head, convincing myself I did not understand the experience or the depth of Colin’s love and shamanic powers.

Now, when I reread our messages and see how I exposed my vulnerability to him I am uneasy. I realize now that this was not a safe place; his intentions were more sinister than I initially knew. While I thought I was seeking solace in a wizened old friend, I was playing squarely into the grooming tactics of a well-rehearsed predator.

I believe that as humans, we all have a deep-seated desire to be seen. We feel that there is something more we can offer the world, if only we had the means to let that part of us out. And I imagine this is particularly true of women, as we frequently have to prove ourselves as worthy and capable in ways that men do not. Colin Garland, pseudo spiritual leader, has found the perfect way to prey on young women and girls via this innate human condition. He fancies himself a shaman and uses his influence to create a harem of women to exercise his manipulation, abuse, and assault.

There are countless women who have had similar experiences with this wannabe cult leader. I am fortunate that my own did not escalate past this degree. Please consider the ties you have to this man and others who exhibit this behavior within your community.

 

A page has been set up as a platform for other victims and their supporters. Please share widely.

UPDATE: Another woman has written of her abuse at the hands of Colin Garland. TW – sexual assault

 

Note to self.

When he posts those kind of pictures –yes those ones— the kind you asked him not to, he is the person you were afraid he could be.

When he tells you to forget him and find someone new, only to punish you for weeks and weeks and months and months when you try to follow his advice, to relieve yourself of the heartache and ashes and rubble he has left behind, he is the person you hoped he was not.

When you are suffering and cannot leave your bed, researching lethal dosages of household medication, and he will not come — when you put down your best friend’s dog and are choking on your tears and you beg for him, but he refuses, he is not the person you loved.

When you plead for him to call you for some reason – any reason- except to feel your lips wrapped around his dick, and he resents you, gaslights you, he is poison.

He is not who you believe he might be.

He is not who you’re sure he could be.

There is nothing to read between the lines of,  “Are we ever going to get another guy?” and days of silence.

He is not your fantasy.

He is only what he does.

 

 

An Open Letter to Johnny’s Roadside Diner

To the Yee family:

My name is Marie Billiel. You have perhaps seen my name sprinkled in the local media throughout the last couple of years in correlation with the criticism and closing of the Route 9 Diner. I posted the original blog post Tales from the Diner that led to many other women sharing their own grisly experiences with the former staff and management during their employment. As I’m sure you know, the details we shared were so appalling that the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office took notice. Because of the negative publicity,  the owners made the decision to close, thus allowing your family the opportunity to broaden your horizon within the Pioneer Valley’s restaurant scene.

I know well that the Route 9 Diner’s closing was a loss to the community. During my tenure there I grew to know and love many familiar faces: the many late-night fraternities and sororities who would stumble in at 4am and never seemed to know the size of their parties; the early morning regulars who listened with rapt attention to the goings on of my personal life; the elderly people who enjoyed the ease and comfort in the routine of eating lunch at the Route 9 Diner and taking their leftovers home for dinner.

Because of this, I have routinely championed the opening of Johnny’s Roadside Diner. I was grateful that the building would no longer stand vacant in the Stop n Shop Plaza as a reminder of its quick and sour ending. I was confident that your family would breathe new life into the tired old space.

It is because of this that I am concerned with a piece of information I was given recently. About a week ago the Attorney General’s case against the former owners and management of the Route 9 Diner once again made headlines. As with every bout of media attention, I received hateful messages from former coworkers. At this point  they have become less painful and I recognize that although they are sent my way from a place of anger and hurt I do not have to engage with them. However, one of these messages revealed something to me that makes me feel as though I would be neglecting my due diligence were I to ignore it: I learned that you have chosen to hire some of the former cooks of the Route 9 Diner.

As I’m sure you know, there are many public recitals of the atrocities we were subjected to by the Route 9’s cooks. Some of us were forced to show our tongue before being given our tables’ orders; were regularly accosted in the walk-in coolerand were pressured for dates and sexual favors. Of course, that’s hardly the tip of the iceberg.  It is because of this that I am admittedly uneasy about your decision to hire anyone in their former Back of House.

Allow me to make clear that I in no way attend this to be an attack on your business or your integrity. I do not claim to know who it is you opted to hire nor what your terms were. I was downright ecstatic when I learned that you hired some of the diner’s former waitresses. They were undeserving of the fallout caused in the aftermath of the Route 9 Diner’s closing and I was grateful they were able to once again find a place in that chrome community staple.

It is in this same vein that I must acknowledge that the cooks and dishwashers also experienced their own hardships with the sudden loss of their jobs. I am putting my faith, albeit hesitantly, in the idea that these men, though previously consistently inappropriate and sometimes predatory, have learned that this behavior is unacceptable. I trust that the change in management and corresponding shift in culture sees that the work environment is no longer a toxic and hostile one, but one of growth, opportunity, and safety.

I am leaving behind my dismay and anxiety in favor of hope.

Respectfully yours,

Marie Billiel.

Hold the Dam.

A few weeks ago, I posted Anne Theriault’s Being a Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence on my facebook page. This type of post is not uncommon; anyone on my friends list can expect a consistent stream of feminist articles. I do not shy away from these topics, especially in my own writing.

Typically, these posts are met with comments of solidarity and a resounding, “yes all women!” Still, I am not naive enough to think that in posting this type of content I will not receive backlash from time to time. And I do: I frequently encounter justifications of violence against women, the differing standards to which women are held, etc. I am reminded of how deeply embedded the acceptance of victim-blaming is in our culture and–yes,– the existence of rape culture. This is standard fodder with which I am faced. But for me, what is somehow a bit more upsetting, is not so much this everyday misogynistic defense of a patriarchal system. Instead, what upsets me is the very denial of these experiences: “Barf. Not all women.”

Often, it feels like I, and others like me, have our backs to a dam. Together we can brace against the onslaught of sexual assaults, dehumanization, and harassment. We patch up the tiny holes where these occurrences seep out, but we always know that behind that dam, my god, there is a fearsome flood.

Sometimes I do feel secure; together we will hold back the water and still the flow. But I am also terrified, even more so than I am angry; so many whom I feel should be standing in solidarity against the dam are instead looking on at a distance, shrugging and saying, “What’s the big deal? Water’s good for you.” Or worse: “There is no flood.”

And it is when I see and hear this response that I think of my friends and my sister and myself and I imagine us being swept up in this tide of misogyny. In these moments, I am certain we will drown.

Since reading Anne Theriault’s piece, I couldn’t help but compile my own list of encounters with the violence she describes:

  1. When I am in 3rd grade one of my classmates takes a liking to me. In class he announces that he wishes that all the girls were desperate for him. As he gets on the bus he beckons to me and says, “just have a little sex with me.”
  2. When I am 14 I find a pair of knee high boots in a charity bin at a local church. The first time I wear them I am out with my friend at dusk – about 6pm. Two boys in their late teens scream from their car, “Are you girls hoes?” before taking off into the night, tires squealing.
  3. When I am 17 my ex boyfriend calls me a cunt and stabs the veins on his wrists with a sharpened pencil. He tells my new boyfriend that he fantasizes about choking and punching me.
  4. When I am 18 I am at a party and a boy continuously sits next to me and caresses my thigh through my jeans, despite my pleas and refusals. He follows me into the cab of a truck and continues his assault as I pass out.
  5. When I am 19 I am sitting at the counter of the diner where my boyfriend is working. A 50+ year old man pays at the register and admires my ass. He turns to my boyfriend as he pays, sighing longingly and saying, “you never get sick of looking at a fine piece of art, you know? That is some fine art.”
  6. When I am 20 a regular customer eyes me and talks about the corsets he buys his wife. He tells me he thinks I would look good in a corset. When I don’t respond the way he’s hoping he tells me, “I like more meat on my women anyway.”
  7. When I am 24 I am cleaning out my car when I turn to find a man taking pictures of me up my dress. He defends his actions and drives away angrily when I tell him to get away from me.
  8. When I am 25 I come out about the assault and harassment I experienced at an old job. I am called a slut. I am told to die slow.
  9. When I am 26 I realize that I was not an exception, but one in a pattern of former students seduced by a highschool teacher. I am sick when I think of the vehemence with which I defended him.
  10. When I am 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, I am called to on the street with pet names and unwelcome reviews on my appearance. When I do not respond I am called a bitch, asshole, cunt.
  11. When I am a woman I receive unsolicited sexually explicit messages on dating websites. When I respond with displeasure, a polite “no thank you,” or do not respond, I am told I am fat, disgusting, that I am a cunt and unfuckable.

When I am a woman, it takes me less than 20 minutes to think of these examples.

There are more. There are always more.

Yes, all women.

Strong Women

My introduction was young; at just four years old I stretched toward the phone to call the police while my mother screamed from across the room. I struggled to get to it, hung on the wall just out of a toddler’s reach. My mother’s boyfriend, Eric, took one long stride across the living room, leaving my mother crumpled in a heap, and ripped the entire receiver from the wall.

Days later I would sit in the bathroom with my mother as she examined the gash that ran the length of her calf. No one ever taught me about 911.

Sometimes now I wonder: How many times have I had to call the police to report an instance of domestic violence since then? How many more times will I have to?

Tomorrow marks six months since the morning my roommate’s ex-boyfriend burst into our house at 8 am, yelling obscenities and slamming doors. Eventually he left, only to crawl through our kitchen window that afternoon. Later, as I walked up my front steps, I would marvel at the amount of his blood that still clung to the sidewalk, even after a week; even after the rain. There are still drops of his blood on the dirtied siding of our house: the result of his drunken punch through the window of our front door.

Years ago, back in Amherst, I lived with my friend and her boyfriend for two years. Ernesto was an angry drunk and a serial cheater. My friend was a no-bullshit powerhouse; fierce and loyal and unwavering.

One night, months before I lived with them, Ernesto trapped her in their bedroom in a drunken rage. When she finally escaped he chased her through the woods behind their house. After they broke up he smashed the windows of her car.

They got back together. She defended him in court. I moved in.

They fought frequently; “You fucking junkie piece of shit,” echoed through the walls at night. We lived with the idea that he wasn’t dangerous as long as he did not drink. But at his most sober he texted continuously, questioning her company and her whereabouts. He demanded she dress modestly; he grew angry at her growing disinterest in sex.

One day, in the midst of a bout of food poisoning, I woke up to five missed calls from her. Ernesto had tried to trap her in their bedroom again. She escaped and ran to her car barefoot.

“What a piece of shit,” we agreed the next day, “he’s got a fucking problem.”  And that was how we left it.

Weeks later I spoke casually of my roommates to a friend; “Why the fuck is she with someone like that?” he demanded, “And why the fuck are you living with someone like that?” I had never considered the severity of what was taking place in my house.

I left, eventually. One night she called me panicked, “Are you home? You need to leave. Ernesto and his brother are on their way there and they are really angry at you.”  I had nowhere to go.

An hour later I heard the familiar slam of the front door and footsteps on the stairs. Outside my door I heard their gruff voices speaking not in their native Spanish, but in English. For my benefit: “I’m going to punch that fucking cunt in her fucking face.”  My door opened. They stood in my room and watched me pretend to sleep for a few minutes before leaving. I couldn’t move.

As I packed my things into discarded produce boxes she glared at me, her pupils pinpoints of rage, and said, “You were never in any danger and you know that. Fuck you.”

Last summer my best friend made a long distance phone call to me while I was in Tel Aviv to announce me that she had finally left her boyfriend. She had moved in with him a few months before and things had been tense ever since. Then, one night, he got home to find her sleeping and woke her up to throw her against the wall and choke her.

Three months later, “I slept with Josh. Don’t judge me.”

Some months ago I said to my roommate, “You know, I was really, really worried about you and Mitchell getting back together after everything that happened.” I was referring to the time after they broke up but were still sleeping together nonexclusively and he took the liberty of going through her phone while she was asleep. He woke her up with a fast slew of obscenities and death threats, complete with a fist through the wall and hand on her throat. “But it seems like things are going really well and I’m really glad.”

Two weeks later he broke up with her. And then he stormed into our house to find her in bed with someone else. He refused to leave and instead shut himself in her bedroom with her and demanded over and over, “Do you like sucking his dick?!” I called the police.

It was strangely reminiscent of the times I had to call the police as I frantically drove to my friend’s apartment when I was just 18 years old. The father of her unborn baby would frequently become enraged and lock her in their bedroom and sit on the other side of the door. He often spent his days sitting outside of the restaurant where we worked to keep an eye on her.

Yesterday I found out that old roommate never did get the restraining order she swore she would all those months ago.

What are we teaching girls that creates such a consistent pattern of accepting abuse? There is an idea of a Strong Woman in our society who takes no bullshit, but most of my friends have fit that archetype.  How many more women do I know who are keeping these secrets? How many women aren’t asking for help because they’re not supposed to be the kind of women who are abused? And why, why, why are there so many men doing this and being taught that they can get away with it?

When Eric came back into my mother’s life a few years ago I spent days feeling nauseous. I hadn’t spoken to my mother in almost 6 months but when things came to a head one night I got in her face and told her that she had better keep that man away from my sister. She denied the abuse that I had witnessed with my own eyes. She told me I was young and stupid. Those words were among some of the most frightening I’ve ever heard in my life.

My sister, now 17, has been going out with a boy for about a year now. They have had some rough patches; he has sent nude photos to other girls and been caught by my sister. When they patched up that particular incident my sister told me that there was now an understanding that she would be able to access his phone and online accounts at her will. I plead with her to realize the unhealthiness of a relationship like that, but she wasn’t interested. A few weeks back she messaged me with screenshots between her boyfriend and another girl in which he said he didn’t want to be with my sister any longer and wanted to webcam with this girl. They broke up and I breathed a sigh of relief. But now he has declared it was all a joke that he meant for her to see. And so the roller coaster continues, along with a heightened defensiveness to anyone who tries to reason with her about the negative ways he treats her.

And it is when my sister tells me things like this, when I am already mulling over the unhealthiness of so many relationships around me that I wonder: is this presentation of a poor sense of self-worth the first step? What kind of behavior will she defend next? Who will call the police for her?

And my heart breaks.

Jack

I have been dying for something to write lately. I’ve had posts slowly forming in my head, being forgotten and then rewritten before they ever make it to paper. Although I have ideas, nothing has yet compelled me to the point of settling in and writing it out. That is, until this week, when something has happened that is so devastating to me that I need to write so that I can attempt purge the sickness from my heart.

I knew a girl once. Her name was Amber. Her hair was short and she wore children’s barrettes to keep her ponytail in place. Her hair was dyed red and it clashed with the long sleeve button-down shirt that was the uniform of the restaurant where we worked.  She was visibly pregnant and entering her second trimester. She would become, for a time, one of my dearest friends.

We bonded quickly; I gave her a ride home one night and we stopped for snacks along the way. The same week we stayed up late together and visited my boyfriend on his overnight shift at the Whately Diner. We became regulars here; routinely monopolizing the jukeboxes, our laughter echoing off the steel walls.

But there was another routine too; this one less joyful and carefree than our gleeful late night rides. Randy, Amber’s boyfriend, took issue with our outings. Once, while we were driving to my apartment, he called and demanded to know where we were. Unsurprisingly, he did not believe that we were simply en route to Sunderland. Citing my radio in the background, he insisted that we must be in a nightclub and demanded to know where. When he and Amber got off the phone, he called her back. He continued to call her for the next ten minutes until she shut off her phone. Then he moved on to calling my phone until I was also forced to power it down. This happened multiple times.

I remember one morning, as I was waking up at my boyfriend’s house in Turners Falls, Amber called me, frantically crying and begging me to come get her from her apartment in Greenfield. I rushed over to find that she was trapped in her bedroom, Randy cursing at her on the other side of the door. I called the police, who told us that they had no power to make him leave the house, as they were both subletting and neither was on the lease. This happened at least twice more.

Although Amber officially ended her relationship with Randy, she had no choice but to let him continue living with her. When I went to her apartment I found poorly-written letters from him, promising her that he wanted to work it out and this wouldn’t happen again. When she was at work he would sit on the bench outside the restaurant, staring into the windows, waiting for her to get out.

In December, a month before her son was born, Amber left Greenfield and moved back in with her mother in Central Massachusetts. A few months later Randy contacted her, threatening to gain custody of his son, whom he called by the incorrect name.

My relationship with Amber has been spotty since she moved. We have reunited, we have fought, and we have lost touch. It had been nearly a year since we last spoke. But out of the blue, she messaged me: “I wish you were here.”

It has been a week since then, and in that time my heart has sunk deeper every day. On Wednesday she told me that her son was in the hospital. She told me that he has been in Randy’s custody, by her mother’s doing, and that she had been refused her visit the previous weekend. On Thursday she sent me a picture of him in the hospital, full of tubes, unconscious and unresponsive. On Friday I learned that his kidneys were failing when he was initially admitted to the hospital and we touched, though could not bear to address, that he may not make it.

I have not seen this boy since he was three years old, and I have not touched him since he was an infant, but my heart is broken. Today Amber’s story made the news, and the details have repeatedly made me tearful and nauseous.

According to court documents, doctors found the child was suffering from “starvation and dehydration” and had become unresponsive as a result. A state police report indicates the boy’s injuries are “life threatening.”

A police report states that the little boy also had suffered bruises to his forehead and jaw, which Mr. Lints allegedly said were caused by a fall from the child’s bed, something doctors determined wouldn’t have caused such injuries. The boy also had what are believed to be bleach burns on his hands and knees.

The police report indicates that the child was rarely out of his father’s sight and that there is a history of Randall Lints limiting “consumption of food and liquids,” which is an issue that had been addressed by a therapist in May.

Worcester Telegram

I don’t know what to say. How do these things happen? DCF placed him in Randall Lints’s care; why doesn’t the system work?

I don’t have a point. I don’t have an empowering ending. I have only sadness right now. Send Amber your love and support. My god, she needs it.

Update 7/24: Jack Loiselle remains in a coma, but is subtly responding to stimuli. The media has picked up his story as well, demanding answers for DCF’s gross negligence. I have set up a donation site to assist Amber and her family with any accrued medical and legal costs:Please help if you can.