A Range of Harsh Lessons

Diane Veaseys dream rested on a windswept, 36-acre piece of land with a view of Pikes Peak. She calls it her ranch, though only someone who was raised in the confines of a city would think to describe it in those terms.

She and her husband, Earl, moved to the ranch two years ago, along with eleven of their brood of 22 children. Earl, a Baptist minister, had recently retired and planned to fix up the old house that was on the property, perhaps even build another, nicer one just up the hill. They hoped to get some horses for the kids.

They didnt want their children growing up on the rough streets of Flint, Michigan.

Looking back on it now, the dream seems like a cruel joke.

Friends say that maybe it comes down to racism; maybe not. But the fact is that when the Veaseys moved to Kiowa, there were fewer than 120 other blacks in sparsely populated Elbert County.

Two and a half months into the 1999-2000 school year, Diane pulled her kids out of the local school after theyd been subjected to taunts, racial slurs and death threats. She found a former Denver Public Schools teacher to educate her children and set them up in a makeshift classroom on the first floor of the Veasey home.

Things quickly went from bad to worse. In April last year, Earl was paralyzed in an automobile accident near their home; the Veaseys filed suit against the county, claiming that poorly maintained roads were to blame for the crash.

Diane now believes that the suit, which is still pending, might have biased county officials against the family and set the stage for what happened next.

In early November, based on a tip that one of the girls might have been sexually molested by one or more brothers, Elbert County deputies swooped in and removed all three girls from the household and placed them in foster homes. Accusations of abuse and neglect were eventually heaped onto the allegations of incest. In January, the sheriff came for the boys, too. The county department of social services even removed the Veaseys 23-year-old handicapped son and placed him in a special-care facility in Sterling.

The following month, based on the observations of a court-appointed special advocate, the Veaseys were ordered to have no contact with their daughters, even though Diane and her husband had never been charged with abuse. (The advocate, a volunteer, was to assist social services and make recommendations.)

The Veaseys had prepared themselves for a fight from the beginning, but the battle to regain their children took a greater emotional and physical toll than they could have foreseen. Earl died of a heart attack this past March, less than two weeks from his 51st birthday.

Only one of the children was permitted to attend his funeral.

Now, nearly six months after the first allegations arose, only four of the Veasey children have been allowed to return home, three of them in the past two weeks. Two of the teenage boys are living at the Marvin W. Foote Youth Services Center in Arapahoe County while they await trial on charges that they molested their twelve-year-old sister. That girl has not yet been allowed to come home. Three of her brothers, including the 23-year-old, remain in others' care, with no date set for their return. Another, age eighteen, has moved out.

The sexual-assault case appears to be crumbling. Reportedly, at least one of the accusers and the alleged victim herself are no longer cooperating with authorities, and the 18th District deputy district attorney has asked that some of the charges against the Veasey boys be dropped.

And as county officials shield themselves behind a gag order surrounding the case, the matter appears to have come down to this: The remainder of Diane Veasey's children will not be allowed to come home unless she agrees to send them back to public school -- the same place she took them from because she believed their lives were in danger.

For Diane, one of the hardest things she's had to face is that the disaster sprang from within her own family. She claims the sexual-abuse allegations that got the entire case rolling were made up by her oldest son, age 32, who contacted the sheriff's office after his parents refused to loan him $30,000.

This isn't the first time this son has made such allegations, she says. It is, however, the first time anyone believed him.

Diane, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, was divorced and the mother of three before she turned twenty, but she was determined to better herself and make a life for her children. She began taking classes at night, hoping to nab a clerical job.

She was finishing up those courses and working at the Coachman's Inn in Little Rock, when she met fellow employee Earl Veasey. She hadn't planned to jump right into a second marriage, Diane says, but Earl was a charmer.

They married in 1971, and Earl took Diane's three children -- Ronald, Niki and Yvonne -- as his own.

The two of them never really discussed how many kids they wanted to have, Diane says. They both came from large families -- she was one of eight children, he one of eleven -- and having lots of children underfoot seemed natural. As for birth control, Diane figured God could call a halt to the procreation "anytime He got ready."

Apparently, He wasn't anywhere near ready.

Carmen came along a year after Diane and Earl wed. The couple had a child almost every year after that until 1994, when Amria, the youngest, was born.

The Veaseys never lacked for ambition. Even as Earl struggled to raise his kids on a school security guard's salary, he worked to educate himself. He found challenge and comfort in theology, in particular, and after years of study, he earned a degree from Arkansas Baptist College.

But Earl's faith -- and Diane's -- would be sorely tested after the birth of their tenth child, a son they named Brandon.

In the summer of 1979, when Brandon was fifteen months old, Diane took him in for a round of routine childhood immunizations. But the baby's reaction was far from routine: Brandon lapsed into a coma just days later. At first, says Diane, the doctors thought Brandon would die. When it became clear he would survive, doctors told the Veaseys their son would be a vegetable.

The physicians were wrong again, though Brandon's injuries proved devastating -- he was left a paraplegic and legally blind. He was later diagnosed as developmentally disabled.

"Earl worked with [Brandon] every day when he came home," Diane says. "He would exercise him and everything, like they showed us at the hospital. Everything Brandon learned, Earl taught him."

Brandon's illness was a test, but through it all, "we never gave up on God," Diane says. "It really made us stronger. It showed us how God works."

The Veaseys filed suit against the State of Arkansas on Brandon's behalf, requesting compensation for his care and injuries, but relief would be years in coming. The suit was filed, Diane said, because the state required the shots.

Not long after Brandon was struck down, the Veaseys decided to leave Arkansas. They needed a change, says Diane.

They set their sights on Flint, Michigan, an industrial city whose life's breath was the General Motors Corporation. Diane had family there, and they both figured it was a good place to start anew.

They moved there in 1980.

It was in Michigan that Earl heeded the call to the ministry. He was ordained in 1982 and accepted a position as an associate minister at the Cross Missionary Baptist Church in Flint. It was an emotional decision, not a financial one: Associate ministers at the church receive "love offerings," not a salary, says Diane.

Eventually, Earl moved on to a paid post across town at the Hickory Grove Missionary Baptist Church, where he pastored for six years.

Still, it wasn't easy trying to make ends meet on a minister's salary; Earl often worked two jobs to keep a roof over his growing family. But within a few years, with the help of a loan from the Veterans' Administration (Earl had served in the Marines), Earl and Diane were able to buy a modest home.

While they were in Flint, the Veaseys had a brush with fame: They were featured in a 1990 Jet magazine article about their large family. The article captured the attention and imagination of actor/comedian Eddie Murphy.

Murphy said he wanted to do something because he thought the Veaseys needed a break, Diane says. He gave Earl and Diane a pair of first-class tickets to the Bahamas. Entertainer Merv Griffin threw in a free one-week stay at a hotel he owns there.

At the time, Diane and Earl had just nineteen children, and Murphy jokingly asked that the Veaseys name their next son after him. A year after their trip to the Bahamas, the Veaseys welcomed their twentieth child, Eddie Murphy Veasey, into their home.

The Veaseys' financial situation changed substantially in 1992: After dragging through the courts for twelve years, Brandon's suit was finally settled. The family received a six-figure settlement (Diane claims not to know the exact amount) in the form of a trust. Earl was appointed conservator.

Though the windfall was designed to make life easier for Brandon and his parents, it didn't bring peace of mind.

According to Diane, in 1994 her oldest son, Ronald -- by then grown and on his own -- approached his stepfather about obtaining a hefty loan. He wanted $30,000 to pay off some bills.

Earl wasn't stingy with his money. He helped the kids when they needed it. He'd bought Ronald a car and helped him purchase his first house. The large amount was a different matter. "He'd give them all money, but not that much," Diane says. "They never, ever asked us for that much."

Earl turned down Ronald's request.

And then Ronald turned on the family, Diane says. He allegedly called the Michigan Department of Children's Protective Services and told caseworkers that his younger siblings were being abused. (Ronald, who lives with his wife and children in Indiana, did not return numerous calls for comment on this article. His wife, Sheila, also declined to be interviewed. When asked if the latest charges were a reaction to the rejected loan, she laughed and replied, "No.")

The Veaseys' daughter Krystal, then fourteen, recalls that social workers came to school to interview her and her siblings.

"I think it was something about we were being mistreated," says Krystal, now married and the mother of three.

"I just know the social service people came up to school and asked us questions," she says. "They basically got the same answer: All of us said nothing was going on."

The Veaseys didn't use violence to keep the kids in check, says Krystal. "If we got in trouble, usually they'd sit down and talk to us, unless we did something really bad -- we'd get popped, like hit on the hand, or usually [Earl] would ground us for a while. If we'd do something like steal, we'd get in a great deal of trouble."

Diane admits that her disciplinary measures weren't always as benign as a swat on the hand.

"The kids would get spankings," she says, "but not always. We also at times would make them do exercises. Jumping jacks or something, or we'd make them go in the corner. There wasn't cruelty."

After an investigation of several weeks, Diane says, the accusations were deemed unfounded and the case was dismissed.

"They found nothing wrong," Krystal agrees.

Sheryl Thompson of Children's Protective Services in Flint said she could not comment because of confidentiality.

By 1994, Flint's luster had faded for the Veasey family. General Motors wasn't doing well, factories were closing, and people were moving on, leaving behind abandoned, boarded-up homes. The Veaseys decided to move on. Ronald's actions, says Diane, helped fuel their decision to go.

Surprisingly, Earl and Diane decided to move their city-bred kids to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

"My husband and I went there one summer and we liked it," Diane says of their decision to move to Wyoming. "It was nice and quiet, and we wanted to get away from Flint, which had become rough. We decided to move and go to a smaller place."

"About ten, no twelve, of the children moved with us."

The teenage Krystal wasn't ecstatic about the move at first.

"My father wanted to get us kids out of the fast life to something more mellow," she says. "He wanted to keep us out of trouble.

"It was hard to adjust a little bit. We wanted to go back to Flint at first. But we knew we weren't going nowhere, so we had to get used to it. We all pitched in and did what we needed to do."

In Cheyenne, Earl became an associate minister at Second Baptist Church and took a second job working in the local schools' custodial department.

The family quickly fell into a routine.

"My father would go to work -- I think he left for work before we went to school," Krystal says, "and me and Brant [one year her senior] got everyone together. My father used to cook us breakfast, then we'd get the rest of them up. We'd get ourselves out to school."

Deciding that their financial struggles were behind them by 1997, Earl retired, and he and Diane began looking for some land.

"I decided Kiowa was the place," Diane says. "It's quiet and peaceful."

They moved to Kiowa in September 1999. The house the Veaseys chose -- a two-story home on a rise several miles northeast of Kiowa -- isn't anything special. It's seen a lot of wear and tear, and its rooms are tiny and jumbled. What it does have, though, is an expansive view of the Front Range all the way from north of Denver to as far south as Pikes Peak. The treeless expanse is blown clean each day with air as crisp as that found on the Wyoming plains. There's plenty of room here for people and horses and dogs and kids.

It seems to offer a wholesome, if lonely, existence.

"The children didn't like it at first," Diane says. "They couldn't do the kinds of things they wanted to do, like living up in the city. You're not close to your neighbors. But once they got here they adapted, because they got to go up to the cities."

By "the cities," Diane means Denver and Aurora, both of which are more than forty miles northwest of the Veasey home.

There are just 425 kids in Elbert County's C-2 school district. Classes, from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade, are held in a three-building campus in Kiowa.

Traditionally, the student body is overwhelmingly white; approximately 5 percent of the students are minorities, says superintendent Greg Kruthaupt. He estimates that blacks generally make up 1 to 2 percent of the student population.

So when ten Veasey kids enrolled at the Kiowa school, they effectively doubled the number of black students in attendance. And it didn't take long for problems to erupt.

The Veaseys, primarily the older boys, were being threatened by other students, says Diane. "They said they were going to kill them. They called them 'nigger.'"

Diane met with then-principal Jerry McWhorter. "There were results," she says. According to her, two students were suspended for two weeks.

McWhorter, who now serves as assistant principal at D'Evelyn Junior/Senior High School in Golden, is less clear on what occurred.

"Our district set goals for that year, and one of our goals was having a respectful climate," he says. "To be honest, I can't remember all the details [of the Veasey case]. I think something like that happened, and there certainly would have been consequences. If the issue came up, I would have acted, without any question."

Despite the principal's corrective action, though, Earl and Diane felt uncomfortable with the situation.

"Columbine had happened," Diane says, "and I said, 'There's not going to be a Columbine on my children.'"

School didn't seem to be working out especially well for the children, anyway. According to a report drawn up by a court-appointed volunteer in January this year, Stephen, who had been enrolled in tenth grade at the Kiowa school, had been failing many of his classes, as was one of the younger boys. Quinn, a ninth-grader, was enrolled as a special-education student. Almost all of the Veasey kids showed delays in reading and math, the volunteer reported.

It appeared that the children hadn't benefited much from their years of public education.

In October, the Veaseys decided to pull their kids from the Kiowa school and teach them at home. Colorado law is liberal with regard to home schooling; it was designed to be so. According to the state's School Attendance Law, "the General Assembly declares that it is the primary right and obligation of the parent to choose the proper education and training for children under his care and supervision. It is recognized that home-based education is a legitimate alternative to classroom attendance for the instruction of children and that any regulation of nonpublic home-based educational programs should be sufficiently flexible to accommodate a variety of circumstances. The general assembly further declares that nonpublic home-based educational programs shall be subject only to minimum state controls which are currently applicable to other forms of nonpublic education."

A parent or adult relative who chooses to home-school children is not required to be a licensed teacher. Non-relatives are required to be licensed and qualified by the state. Home-school students must be tested and evaluated every two years beginning at the third-grade level. If a student's test scores show him to be doing poorly, the school district can require his parents to place him in a public, parochial or independent school until the next testing period.

After several months of teaching the kids on her own, Diane decided they would be better served by a licensed educator. The Veaseys took out a help-wanted ad, conducted interviews and settled on Joan Joyce Mortensen, who had worked for ten years as a secondary teacher with Denver Public Schools.

Mortensen had decided to give up her job working in public school so she could spend more time with her daughter, she says, and she had recently remarried and hoped to have another child. "I wanted to be home and pull away from the district," she explains.

Mortensen began working with the Veasey children in January 2000. She taught ten of the children plus her own five-year-old, whom she brought along to the Veasey home Monday through Thursday, which is when the classes were held.

The Veaseys had converted a large room downstairs into a classroom. They'd set up a large folding table with chairs for all of the kids. A grease-pen board set at the end of the room served as their version of a chalkboard; Mortensen used it for lecture notes, for working on maps and for writing down assignments. She had amassed a large number of books from her years of teaching in the public schools, and she brought those with her.

The school day started promptly at 8:30 a.m.

The three Veasey girls, in particular, were always "beautifully dressed" for class when she arrived, Mortensen remembers. "Their hair was done; they had matching little outfits.

"The house smelled like bacon. It was a perfect family."

Mortensen says she was amazed by how smoothly things worked at the Veasey home. Diane, she says, "seemed very much a pro at parenting. They were so organized it was amazing. Things worked like clockwork. The kids knew what was expected and they helped out when they needed to. They were so well-behaved."

Mortensen would begin the day's lesson with a discussion of current events. The children had to keep a notebook about articles they found interesting, and Mortensen would ask them questions about the articles to test their comprehension.

Mortensen worked from lesson plans, and the work might vary from one day to the next. "Certain days I would teach science or social studies all morning," she says. She taught them geography and history, social studies and math.

The kids got a half-hour break at 11:30, and they'd all run upstairs for lunch, Mortensen says. Class resumed again at noon, and school ended for the day at 3 p.m.

For the most part, Mortensen was pleased with the children's interest and progress. In her mind, only one of the girls, now twelve, seemed to exhibit any learning difficulties.

"She had some problems with reading and math," Mortensen says. "I tended to think she might be borderline special ed, but it wasn't something to become severely concerned about. I modified her work, just as if she was a special-ed student who had been mainstreamed.

"I might give her a different type of work to get the same outcome. For example, if I'm giving a multiple-choice test, I might give it to her orally instead of written."

Three of the boys were "really up on things," Mortensen says. "Very intelligent." She gave two of them extra work because she felt they needed to be challenged.

The youngest boy, now 9, "had problems not wanting to work," Mortensen says. "You need someone to be creative with him, someone to have some one-on-one with him and get him through some of the things -- and I would do that."

Mortensen says she never saw anything she would describe as sexual acting out. Nor did she ever see anything that would point to abuse or neglect.

"What I saw was some basic sibling rivalry, and it happened amongst all of them," she says. "One of the boys might have said something in class, might have been teasing one of the others, and they said, 'Shut up.' I just can't even think of a situation now. I didn't see it as anything based on gender, age or anything. It was just kids getting along being kids."

The Veasey family's routine came to an abrupt halt on April 10 of that year.

Earl had an appointment that day for a checkup at the veterans' hospital in Denver, and Diane had decided to accompany him. They were about a mile from home when the car approached a curve and went out of control on the dirt road.

"He was going about 35," Diane recalls. "The car flipped over, hit a pole and flipped over into a ditch and into a fence."

Diane knew immediately that Earl was badly hurt. He was unable to move. She used the cell phone to summon help. Emergency workers took Earl by helicopter to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, where doctors diagnosed him with a broken neck. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Earl would spend a month at Swedish before being transferred to Craig Rehabilitation Hospital.

It was a hardship for Diane to get to Craig and see her husband, because there was no one available to be at home with the kids and Brandon, her handicapped son, says Mortensen. "So she would take them with her [to Craig], and I wouldn't have a chance to work with them."

Mortensen eventually gave the kids work so they could finish up the semester and she could issue them a grade. None of the children received a grade below a C, Mortensen says. "If you do your job right, there's no reason to fail anyone."

The Veasey children wound up their semester about a month earlier than they would have had the accident not occurred.

The kids have always helped pitch in to help when needed. Mortensen recalls them assisting one day when Brandon had a seizure. "They helped their mom take care of him, hold him down. He wet himself, so they cleaned him up," she says.

But caring for Brandon, her paralyzed husband and ten other kids was going to be too much for Diane, and she knew it. So some of her older kids stepped in.

Ronald came to visit from Indiana and volunteered to take the seven youngest children back with him until his father could get resettled at home. The incident with Ronald and the Michigan social workers "was past," Diane says. And when Ronald volunteered to help out, "it seemed like a good idea."

From April to June, Ronald watched over his youngest siblings, adding them to his own household of five kids.

The Veasey children returned to Colorado in June.

That summer, the Veaseys decided to file suit against Elbert County, claiming that the poorly maintained roads near their home were the cause of Earl's accident.

And in August, says a friend of the Veaseys', Ronald returned to Colorado and asked his father for a $30,000 loan. Earl turned him down. Ronald returned to Indiana. His younger siblings began home schooling with a new teacher in September.

Sonja Jeffries, an educator with almost fifteen years' experience in teaching everything from kindergarten through twelfth grade, was brought in for the new school year after Mortensen, who was expecting, retired to spend time with her children. Jeffries's previous job had been with Aurora Public Schools, where she taught high-risk students at William Smith High School. Jeffries is more critical of the Veasey kids' educational capabilities than was her predecessor.

"My initial assessment of them and their skills was that they, all of them, were at least one grade level below expectations," Jeffries says. "There were one or two of them who were probably two years behind. But what I noticed was that with individual attention, it seemed like they could make rapid progress."

In general, says Jeffries, "they had good attitudes toward home schooling and put effort into their assignments. They were well-behaved; I didn't have any problems with any of them."

By mid-semester, all but one of the children [a boy] were doing well "or at least average," says Jeffries.

Like Mortensen, Jeffries says she believes the children had a good home environment.

"It was unfortunate that there was a lot of, I felt, maybe outside stress due to their father's paralysis and what they were going through as result of the accident," says Jeffries, "but I felt they were coping and they were still able to concentrate on their work.

"There didn't seem to be an issue of neglect or lack of care," she says. "I didn't pick up any signs of abuse."

On the evening of November 4, 2000, the police came for the three Veasey girls.

Because there is a gag order on the social-services case, and because the juvenile court case has been ordered "closed" by the judge, the principals -- including Diane Veasey, her attorneys, the Elbert County Department of Social Services and the sheriff's department -- cannot comment on what has occurred, supervisors said. Joann Musell, the court-appointed volunteer working with the nonprofit Advocates for Children in Aurora, cannot comment. (Musell was assigned to make recommendations on November 8.) And although some of the Veaseys' supporters have questioned Musell's credentials, Peggy Rudden, executive director of Advocates for Children, has declined to give specifics, citing safety concerns and "invasion of privacy" issues.

Still, the gag order does not apply to others. Family friend and political gadfly Sam Riddle -- who became involved after being asked to do so by one of Diane's relatives who knew him from Michigan -- has made it his "job" to inform the media about every aspect of the case. And Krystal Veasey Collins and her sister Carmen Veasey Wilson feel able to speak for the record as well.

For Krystal, the news that something was up came November 2 via a phone call from her sister-in-law Sheila White, Ronald's wife.

According to Krystal, she was told that her twelve-year-old sister had spoken by phone with another sibling a few days earlier and that the twelve-year-old had said that one of her brothers had touched her breast. When word of that conversation reached Ronald and Sheila, they decided to act, Krystal says. "Sheila called me and told me they [Sheila and Ronald] were going to come for my little sister because she was saying someone was bothering her," Krystal relates.

"And I said to Sheila, 'I'm going to tell Mama.' And she said, 'No.' I asked her, 'How can Mama do something if she doesn't know?'"

Krystal decided to investigate the matter herself and drove from Cheyenne to Kiowa to speak with her young sister.

"I talked to [the twelve-year-old]," Krystal says. "I took her downstairs and I sat down and talked to her for a while. She told me of one person. She said he touched her breast when they were playing." When questioned, the girl implicated a second brother. Krystal says she expressed to the girl the importance of speaking about what had happened. Krystal then accompanied her sister upstairs, and the two of them spoke with Diane.

"She told my mother the same thing," Krystal says. "Then, after that, my mother went to talk to my father, and they brought up the [brothers] she said did this."

The boys denied touching their sister inappropriately, but just to be sure, Diane had the girl sleep with her in her room that night.

Krystal left the following day, believing that her parents would deal with the situation as they saw fit.

The Veaseys didn't have time to deal with it, though. On the evening of November 4, several sheriff's deputies pulled up to the Veasey home and demanded that all three girls -- the twelve-year-old and her two younger sisters, ages six and seven -- go with them.

"The sheriff sends a number of cars out here, literally using Gestapo-type tactics," Riddle says. "They came in, warrantless, and took the girls. They told Diane that her son [Ronald] had come in and said her daughter had been sexually assaulted.

"The girls were crying and didn't want to leave. Diane said the police did not give her any documents."

Unbeknownst to Diane, Ronald and Sheila were in Colorado at the time the girls were taken, says Riddle.

According to Riddle, the deputies left the Veasey home that night and took the girls to Castle Rock, where Ronald and Sheila were waiting. The girls stayed there with their brother for about a week while social workers initiated an investigation. All three girls were interviewed, and the alleged victim was examined at a hospital.

Then, at a hearing the following week, an Elbert County judge granted temporary custody of the three girls to Ronald and allowed him to take them home with him to Indiana.

Diane and her attorney fought the ruling and sought to have the girls returned to Colorado.

"The judge said if Mama took the boys out of the house, she could have the girls back," Krystal explains. So Diane sent the boys to live with Krystal in Cheyenne for what she hoped would be a short stay.

"But they didn't let the girls come home," Krystal says.

Instead of being returned to the Veaseys, the girls were brought back to Colorado and placed in a foster home.

The boys remained with Krystal through November, but they continued their schooling -- Jeffries sent work up to them, and the boys sent back completed papers. When it became clear that the girls wouldn't be coming back anytime soon, they went back to Kiowa.

Around Christmastime, Diane decided to send the boys to stay with her daughter Carmen in Arkansas. This time, Stephen and Brandon remained at home with her.

The boys stayed with Carmen for about a month.

"My mom was going to see if I could get them schoolwork," says Carmen. "Quinn [16] wanted to go to school. He was supposed to go take a test [for admission]."

The boys' stay in Arkansas was cut short by 18th Judicial District Court Judge Jack Smith: Smith, who regularly hears cases in Elbert County (which is part of the 18th District, along with Arapahoe, Lincoln and Douglas counties) wanted the boys placed in foster homes.

At a January 21 hearing, Diane put her foot down. She had no intention of cooperating. She refused to tell Smith where the boys were. So Smith found her in contempt of court and had her arrested.

Deputies escorted Diane from the courtroom to jail. It was to be an extremely short stay, however. If she were locked up, there would be no one at home to care for her bedridden husband. Minutes after arriving at the jail, Diane told officers where they could find her sons.

Court officers took no chances that Diane would warn her family. They called authorities in Arkansas and asked them to take custody of the boys there. Then they followed Diane home and took custody of Stephen, age seventeen, and the handicapped Brandon.

In Arkansas, meanwhile, Carmen was met at the door by "a whole bunch" of police officers. The boys -- ages nine to sixteen -- were placed in a juvenile detention center for three days while awaiting transfer back to Colorado.

When they returned to Colorado, Riddle says, all of the boys, even nine-year-old Eddie, were in shackles. Two of the boys were charged with sexual assault. The remainder were placed in foster care.

Finding foster care for minority children in a white-bread county such as Elbert is a tricky proposition. Although every attempt is made to find "culturally appropriate" placements for children, there simply aren't enough foster homes of any kind to go around, says Charles Hawker, director of Elbert County Social Services. "The majority are placed out of county," he says.

The boys were split up and placed in separate homes.

Because of his disability, Brandon was placed in a special-care facility in Sterling. In a petition to validate taking Brandon from the home, the Elbert County Department of Social Services contended that the 23-year-old "needs a guardian as a means of providing continuing care and supervision" because he is unable to care for himself. In the petition and a four-page document accompanying it, there is no mention that Brandon had been cared for at home all his life.

The court papers make it clear that Brandon did not understand the nature of the emergency guardianship proposed by social workers.

The petition was granted. And in a letter addressed to Diane Veasey days later, the Elbert County Department of Social Services mentioned that the cost of his care -- estimated at $140.83 per day -- should be paid out of income from Brandon's annuity.

Throughout this ordeal, Earl Veasey was unable to see his children, says Riddle. He was unable to travel, and the children were forbidden to visit the home.

"The authorities said if Earl ever went back to the hospital, they could visit him there," Riddle says, "but they could not visit him at home.

"The Veaseys moved to Colorado because they were trying to achieve the American dream, and the kids couldn't even see him on what was to be his deathbed."

By February, the Veaseys had been forbidden even to speak with their three youngest daughters.

According to an emergency request filed with the court by Joann Musell on February 8, the girls were becoming too upset when speaking with their parents by phone.

"These girls have experienced severe trauma and have internalized a considerable amount of fear, anger, and guilt that must be dealt with therapeutically," the volunteer wrote. "Every time there is contact with their parents, the girls relive this trauma. Their behavior is marked by bedwetting and acting out in their foster home."

The court approved a no-contact order and a request for an emergency evaluation of all three girls.

Earl and Diane were angry and upset by the ruling.

Earl's health had never been good since the accident. He had suffered infections and contracted diabetes. But when death came for him, it was sudden. On March 4, he had a fatal heart attack.

Diane places responsibility for Earl's death on Elbert County and on Ronald.

"Stress had a lot to do with it," she says. "My husband died of a broken heart."

The funeral was to be held in Little Rock a week later. Diane asked the court to allow her children to attend.

"Social services said they could go to the funeral," says Krystal, "but the judge said no. They hadn't seen their father for six or seven months, and they didn't get to say goodbye, and that tore them up inside."

Only Stephen, who was allowed out on a "pass" from a foster home, was permitted to attend the services.

The atmosphere at the funeral was divisive.

The day before the church ceremony, Carmen called Ronald and asked him not to attend.

"I was talking to him about I didn't want him there because he caused my father to pass on with all that stress and anguish put on him," Carmen says. "I basically blamed him the same as if he walked up to my father and shot him.

"He [Ronald] was real smuglike, and I asked him why he would want to come, and he couldn't tell me why. He didn't say he loved him. He said, 'This a free country. This is America.'

"There's no love in that child's heart," Carmen says of Ronald.

According to Carmen and Krystal, most of the siblings, and their mother, too, ignored Ronald's presence at the funeral. They also snubbed two other sisters who were siding with Ronald in the matter. (Those two also declined to be interviewed.)

Riddle made a point of recognizing Ronald's attendance, though he didn't use his name.

"At the funeral," Riddle says, "I said there was a Judas in the family. I said, 'Judas was at work in terms of the death of the Reverend Veasey.'"

According to family members, Earl's death was something of a turning point in the case.

Ronald "was trying to get against my father," says Krystal. "I don't know for what reason. He can't stand my father for some reason. It's always been like that.

"It's funny how all of a sudden he dies, and now nobody wants to have anything to do with the accusations. Ronald, he wanted my father to pay, and now he don't have nothing to say. Now my sister don't have nothing to say. I think that's sick."

Krystal and Carmen say they believe Ronald became involved in the case because he wanted money. Perhaps he hoped that he could gain custody of the three girls and get child support for them, they surmise. Or maybe he just wanted to get his hands on Brandon's annuity.

"I do think my father was in the way for them," Krystal says. "My mother has control of the money now. Because my mother is quiet, they think they probably can slide their way into her life. My father was not like that. If you really needed money, my father would give it to you, but they always came with the wrong kind of attitude. They think somebody owes them something."

Carmen also believes that Ronald was motivated by a combination of hate and greed.

If his only motivation in reporting the assault had been concern for the safety of the alleged victim, says Carmen, "he would have went straight to my mom and my dad. I think they [Diane and Earl] would have taken care of the problem, found out what was going on and taken care of it themselves."

Ronald, she says, had a lot of animosity toward Earl. "I don't know why," she says. "Ronald has just always been like that. My daddy did everything for that boy, but it never seemed to be enough. He always felt like somebody owed him more."

For his part, Ronald seems to have conceded the fight. At a recent court hearing, says Riddle, Elbert County attorney John Egan said that "the siblings" (whom he did not identify by name) no longer wished to cooperate because they had been "intimidated and threatened." Egan did not return phone calls from Westword.

At the same hearing, the alleged molestation victim refused to answer the judge's questions, even after he took her into his chambers and questioned her there.

Carmen and Krystal believe that the girl had been coerced into making statements about the assault.

Initially, says Krystal, the girl said her brothers had touched her breast but did not remove her shirt. After she was taken from the Veasey home, however, her story changed to include the charge that someone had been touching the inside of her vagina and kissing her on the mouth.

As time drags on, the criminal case appears to be weakening.

At an April 13 preliminary hearing for the two accused Veasey boys, prosecutors elected to dismiss charges of unlawful sexual conduct against them. Two counts of incest remain.

The Elbert County Department of Social Services is beginning to ease up on the Veaseys as well.

Stephen was allowed to stay at home with his mother after Earl's funeral. Technically, he has been home on a "pass" since March 13.

The Veaseys' sixteen-year-old was allowed to come home on April 19. Two of the three girls were returned to Diane on April 20.

Reportedly, the only conditions of their return are that the family seek counseling and that the children be sent to public school. There is no timetable for returning the remaining children. Trials for the two boys accused of incest are slated for later this summer, despite Diane's request for an earlier date. She must wait until July for a hearing on Brandon's fate.

"This is ludicrous," Riddle says. "If this household is so dangerous, why are they allowing the girls to go back?"

As for the public-schools issue, he says, "We think they had a right to pull the kids out of Kiowa schools. The sheriff said [the taunting] was just childish pranks. See what childish pranks ended with in Columbine?

"Well, these kids are in danger, and I hope the state is prepared to bear the ultimate burden, because they've taken these kids' lives into their own hands. The environment of the schoolyard is hate, which we now know can kill. To me, there's an equal-protection issue here. If a white family can home-school, why can't a black family?"

Riddle's arguments were bolstered by the Reverend Michael Shoels, who has worked with Riddle in the past and whose eighteen-year-old son, Isaiah, was the only black student killed during the Columbine shootings two years ago.

"We know firsthand the pain of losing a child to hate," Shoels said in a statement issued late last month. "The warning signs were ignored that could have saved our son's life. The Veaseys removed their children from Kiowa schools in the aftermath of Columbine after the Veasey children were subjected to racial slurs and death threats. Had we taken action as the Veaseys did, our son, Isaiah, would be alive today.

"The Veaseys retained the services of qualified tutors to conduct home schooling, like thousands of white Coloradans do," Shoels said. "When state actions deprive decent parents like Mrs. Diane Veasey and the late Reverend Earl Veasey of their children without just cause and try to force the Veasey children into public schools, then the State of Colorado is an accessory to a hate crime, and there is no equal right to home schooling."

The Veasey children's former home-school teachers also question the children's' need for a public-school education.

In a January report approved by an Advocates for Children staffer, Musell wrote that "school and academic records indicate that all of these children are either special-needs students or are educationally delayed." She recommended that all of the boys remain in foster care until they could be "interviewed and educationally evaluated."

The report fails to note that the Veasey children are the product of years of public-school education.

"I'm pretty surprised that home schooling was discontinued with them, because I really felt they needed individual attention," says Jeffries, "and my experience in the public schools is that unless a student is severely disabled, they tend not to get the attention that they need.

"I feel it is unfortunate they were placed back in public school.

"I have no way of knowing what they accomplished in [the previous year] of home schooling," Jeffries says, "but I would say because they're as far behind as they are that it didn't happen in just one year."

Both she and Mortensen object to categorizing the Veasey children as "special-ed students," and they question Musell's credentials -- which Rudden has declined to discuss.

"You think social services is supposed to help kids," Mortensen observes. "In this case, it's destroyed this family. These kids will have a lasting effect from this, and social services is to blame."


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