Homicide, abuse probe continues: Ridge family was private, kids were well-behaved
By PAUL WELLERSDICK - MediaNews Group
Posted: 02/09/2010 07:01:20 AM PST
PARADISE — As officials continue to investigate Saturday's death of a 7-year-old Paradise girl and the subsequent arrest of the child's adoptive parents, neighbors say the family was well-behaved and oddly secluded behind fences and overgrown bushes that hid the family's Crestwood Drive home.
Kevin Schatz, 46, and his wife, Elizabeth, 42, were arrested Saturday on suspicion of homicide and child abuse after 7-year-old Lydia Schatz died en route to the Chico Municipal Airport to catch a plane to Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento. She was pronounced dead at Enloe Medical Center in Chico.
Another 11-year-old adopted daughter is in critical condition at Sutter Memorial Hospital.
Paradise police Sgt. Steve Rowe confirmed Lydia was allegedly beaten for mispronouncing a word.
Police determined the incident was a result of child abuse. In a follow-up investigation, police discovered the 11-year-old in the same residence with significant injuries. Rowe could not elaborate on the elder girl's injuries, although he said the girl did not suffer cardiac arrest.
Rowe said the elder adopted daughter did have kidney failure and previously was not expected to live. However, her condition was upgraded and she is expected to survive, he said.
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said the girls were allegedly beaten with a 15-inch-long piece of flexible plastic tubing commonly found in toilet tanks.
There were seven other children in the house — a 3-year-old
adopted sister and the Schatz's six biological children ranging in ages from 8 to 16.
The 3-, 7-, and 11-year-olds were adopted from the Republic of Liberia in Africa three years ago, Ramsey said. He said authorities are investigating how the adoptions were made and through what agency.
The remaining youths were taken into protective custody and released to Butte County Children's Services.
Ramsey said the remaining children have indicated that they suffered similar discipline with similar instruments.
Ramsey said the children were being home schooled through a Christian home-school organization. He did not know the name of the organization at press time.
There were no reports of prior child-abuse history with the family. The incident is still under investigation.
Since this is a homicide, the Schatzes are facing a life sentence if convicted.
Saturday's incident has disturbed the otherwise tight-knit community. Sharon Morse, who lives on a neighboring cross street, said her neighbors had been dodging reporters all day Monday.
Morse said the Schatz family was quiet and largely kept to themselves, rarely traveling anywhere.
She said she was good acquaintances with both parents, but not necessarily good friends. The Schatzes were always friendly and even invited her and a few neighbors to dinner. Although she couldn't go, the family still brought her dinner, Morse said.
"Half the neighborhood has been over there for dinner," Morse said.
Four days ago, 7-year-old Lydia delivered a thank-you note to Morse with three older siblings, she said. They brought her homemade persimmon bread and thanked her for letting them pick persimmons from her tree in the backyard.
Often, the 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."
Morse observed that the Schatz children 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 that they had to run in the rain.
"The one thing we all noticed was they (the kids) never had any fun," Morse continued. "They were always well-behaved and the parents seemed to have everything under control all the time."
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 seen — for Christmas caroling or giving out candles during a 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.
The family was very religious, antisocial and overall odd, Knotts said, comparing them to Jaycee Dugard who was kidnapped in 1991 and was found in the backyard of an Antioch couple's home last August.
Knotts said she remembered Elizabeth Schatz wouldn't let a septic company worker in their yard when he was investigating Knotts' septic system repair. Knotts called her neighbor's behavior odd and isolating.
Paul Wellersdick is a reporter for the Paradise Post. Post assistant managing editor Trevor Warner contributed to this report.