Neighbors surprised by murder case
By Paul Wellersdick
Neighbors of the Paradise family torn apart by a Saturday murder allegation and subsequent arrests say the family was strangely well behaved and oddly secluded behind fences and overgrown bushes that hid the family's Crestwood Drive home.
Kevin, 46, and Elizabeth, 42, Schatz were arrested Saturday for murder and child abuse after their 7-year-old adopted child died of a heart attack on the way to hospital. Their 11-year-old adopted child is in critical condition at Sutter Memorial Hospital. The couple's seven other children, including another adopted child, showed signs of abuse and were with Butte County Child Support Services.
Donna Knotts, a Chico resident and co-owner of a home next door to the family said the children were kept under lock and key and were rarely seen. When they were, on occasion Christmas caroling or giving out candles during a neighborhood electrical blackout, the family seemed extremely regimented, Knotts said. None of the children played with other children in the neighborhood, including her 8-year-old grandson, she said. As a retired school teacher, Knotts said the seclusion of the home-schooled children wasn't normal or healthy. Knotts' quarter-acre home was bordered by the Schatz' L-shaped lot on two sides, she said.
"What a shame no one came to the fence to tell us," she said.
Knotts said she remembered Elizabeth wouldn't let a septic company worker in their yard when he was investigating Knotts' septic system repair, Knotts said,
calling her behavior odd and isolating. Sharon Morse lives a few doors down on a neighboring cross street.v "I knew both parents, they'd come over and have a cup of tea," she said. "We weren't good friends or anything but good acquaintances."
Often the Schatz children came to help clean up her yard, or pick fruit, Morse said.
"They'd come and clean the yard, but they'd never take any money," she said. "They were very helpful that way. That's why this has been such a shock. I would never expect it from the parents."
However the night that the 7-year-old was killed, there was a good storm, and none of the children came to help clean up Morse's yard, she said.
"Nine times out of 10 they'd have come over, but not this time," she said.
Four days ago, the now dead 7-year-old delivered a thank you note to Morse with three older siblings, she said. The children brought her home-made persimmon bread and thanked her for letting them pick persimmons from her tree in the backyard, Morse said.
The family was always friendly and even invited her and a few neighbors to dinner and even though she couldn't go, the family still brought her dinner, Morse said.
"Half the neighborhood has been over there for dinner," she said.
The incident Saturday has disturbed the otherwise tight-knit community, Morse said adding her neighbors had been dodging news reporters all day Monday.
"This has been a Paradise of a neighborhood but to have this happen we're just in shock," she said.
"The one thing we all noticed was they (the kids) never had any fun," she continued. "They were always well behaved and the parents seemed to have everything under control al the time."
Morse too said they never played with other kids. They would play with each other and Morse would often see them running together, which she assumed was part of their home-school physical education. But even that seemed over-regimented, she said adding they had to run in the rain.
Also, the children dressed overly modestly, she said.
"The girls always had to wear dresses," she said. "You never saw them in pants. It was almost like they were Amish."
"(The oldest girl) was 16 but she was dressed up like she was 14 instead, no makeup. She "Looked Like Little House On The Prairie." She was a wonderful little girl."
The children hardly talked, but were always well behaved, Morse said.
"We never knew how the parents did it - well now we know," she said.
The family kept ducks and chickens and even milked their own goats, she said.
"They have a menagerie of animals," she said. "I don't know who's taking care of them now."
In hindsight, she said she could see the parents' isolation as controlling.
"The kids went out in pairs too, the parents seemed to be very protective that way - to protect them from the outside world," she said.
Though she believed they were Lutheran, she never saw the family leave for church on Sunday mornings.
"I rarely saw them go out," she said. "When they did their shopping, I'll never know because they were so quiet and kept to themselves."
Two doors down from the Schatz' home, Gin Liu was gardening in her front yard with her dog Toby as she described the family as really nice. They had even stopped by when she first moved to the neighborhood in August to greet her.
"The whole family came over," she said.
The children even brought her fruit. The incident hasn't changed her opinion of the quiet neighborhood, she said. Liu said she did worry about the family's animals, and said she'd try to feed them.