HOLMBERG: Felony arrests mount in Chesterfield suicide memorial case
CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) – Those who participated in the spray-paint memorial for 17-year-old Cal Reilly, who committed suicide June 2, say scores of people contributed in some way. One of the painters was a five-year-old child.
Should all of them be charged with felonies?
So far, 13 people have been charged with defacing a Hampton Park pedestrian tunnel in Chesterfield County, or conspiring to paint it after Reilly hanged himself at the favorite hangout spot just four days from his Cosby High School graduation.
“For Hampton Park to press charges on 30, maybe 40 kids, is way out of proportion,” said one of the juveniles arrested and charged with two felonies.
Christopher Justice, 18, is one of the adults charged in the case.
“It meant a lot of get some of the things off our chest, the emotions that we had to commemorate Cal,” he said while visiting the freshly repainted tunnel in western Chesterfield linking neighborhoods in the vast subdivision.
He, like others who were close to Cal, feels guilt about not seeing the warning signs as the “unique” character known for his colorful clothes and demeanor drifted away from them after he moved from his mother’s home.
Tyler Cosner, 19, is also charged in the case.
“Meeting down here, every day, every other day, knowing that there’s going to be at least 10 people here that were really good friends with him,” he said, “and just hanging out with them all day, knowing they have the same emotions, they’re going through the same things I am, it really helped.”
Both are worried about the felony charges. Justice because he’s headed to medical school and Cosner because he was considering joining the Air Force.
Of the juveniles charged so far with felony conspiracy and property destruction, four are 17, three are 16, two are 15 and one is 14.
Perhaps the arrest that is most infuriating for those involved is that of 48-year-old Todd Pitner, a neighborhood resident who was jogging through the tunnel and connected with the youths because his own brother committed suicide when they were young.
Pitner tells CBS 6 he brought the youths bottled water, and later, pizza, along with trash bags to clean the place up.
When he heard that some neighbors were upset about the spray-paint memorial, he encouraged the kids’ solution – a plan for them to raise the money and repaint the tunnel as a “wonderful celebration of new beginnings,” as he wrote in an open letter that he posted on the tunnel wall along with a sign-up sheet.
For that, Pitner was charged with conspiracy to paint the tunnel.
Many of the teens and their parents signed on to paint over the memorial on July 29.
But the week before, the Hampton Park Homeowners Association, apparently sticking to its charter, paid a contractor $2,500 to repaint the tunnel. Board members aren’t talking. Prosecutors haven’t been assigned to the cases yet. And the Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney is on vacation. Chesterfield police have confirmed the number and type of charges.
Pitner is stunned.
“I’ve never been in trouble a day of my life,” he said.
He believed he was following his faith, trying to do the right thing for all parties – what Jesus might do. He was handcuffed, fingerprinted and had his mug shot taken.
“He’s facing charges for trying to help a bunch of grieving children,” Justice said.
Pitner’s attorney, John Russell, said, “It’s crazy. They could’ve at least offered them the opportunity to pay” for the repainting if they didn’t want volunteers doing it.
Both Justice and Cosner said they would’ve been glad to chip in to pay for the new paint job.
For many of the teens and some of their parents, the Hampton Park Homeowner’s Association took a problem and made it worse by not being more flexible.
“I can’t imagine any person that would do something like this to a bunch of grieving kids,” Justice said. “And I don’t want to ever meet them.”
The bulk of the criminal cases will gather momentum in September, if they go that far.