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Elephant in the room… What happened that day.

This entry starts with the Pennsylvania state police returning my security camera PC October 21, 2014. The recordings of which contain the last moments Caleb Andrew Dubas spent on this earth. Though I saw glimpses of what happened that night while reviewing the security footage with the state police before handing over my PC, I still had unanswered questions and needed more details. For seven days without my security footage, I wondered and agonized over the details recorded that day. The main question being, who or how was the door left open??? How did this happen when we are so obsessive with Caleb and where he is?

As parents, we try our very best to protect our children. Though we can’t save them from everything, we try. So the task of understanding what went wrong that day was something I was obsessing over. I knew the answers were on that computer and I really wanted it back badly. The police told me it would only take a day or two at most and I would get it right back so I reluctantly handed my PC over at the time; but after a few days went by, I began to worry and regret doing so. I reached out to the officer by phone and email several times with no response. I was beginning to think after six days that they lied to me and it would be months or more. Would I really have to wait months for answers? I already had a pit in my stomach over this so when the officer finally responded to my email, apologizing for the delay because of other events that happened during his week, I was relieved when he told me he would be returning my PC then next day October 21, 2014.

That next day would come and the officer called me in the afternoon of the 21st to confirm someone would be home to receive the PC. I assured him yes, someone would be there even though I was not home at the time. I explained to Tiffany the day prior that the police would be dropping off the PC  and someone needed to be home. I was OK with Tiffany receiving the PC however I wanted to be there and thank the officer and make sure it was OK with my own two eyes.  The officer eventually arrived and I couldn’t be more excited to see the police with my computer in hand at my front door. He handed me the computer and it felt like Christmas for a split second but the gravity of what it contained brought my emotions back in check. I set the computer down at my feet and I eagerly signed the paper stating I received it back. A quick “Thank you, I really appreciate it.” and the officer was on his way. As I closed the door, I looked down and to my left and stared at the PC. Even though my anticipation was building, it was also met with deep concern and some apprehension. I knew what was on there and it wasn’t all good. The footage I needed to see for answers, but was afraid to examine at the same time because I did not want to re-live this event over and over. It wasn’t easy. None of this is but I had to do it.

As much as I wanted to drop what I was doing and hook it right up, we had guests and I did not want to be rude and disappear. The anticipation was somewhat intoxicating in a sense because I could not stop thinking about it.  It got to a point where I couldn’t wait any longer. My emotions were consuming me and my desire to know outweighed courtesy.  Sneaking away became easy to meet the answers that I hoped were on that computer. The raw emotion as I connected each cable back in place was intense .From the mouse, keyboard, network cable, and finally the power cable. Every motion built on the next to the final pressing of the power button with anticipation. Starting that computer, my only thoughts were, “Please start, please start.”

My immediate concern was making sure the video data from that day was still intact and not damaged while in police custody. The computer thankfully booted perfectly. Before starting the security software however, I copied off the raw data files to a network location to prevent them being overwritten by new event recordings from the cameras even though they’re not set to do so. I wasn’t taking any chances. I wanted to preserve Caleb’s last moments on this earth and find further understanding of what went wrong. I had to know more. My next task was locating the export files with the date October 14, 2014. I quickly found them and started watching without hesitation. My focus was intense. I leaned in toward the screen so I could see better and started with the front door footage naturally because this was the last place Caleb was seen alive at 5:21 PM on camera.  I knew this because the night I sat and briefly reviewed the footage with the police while looking for quick answers.

Starting from 4:00 PM file, there was plenty of activity on the camera from Isaiah and Josiah to chickens walking in the front yard. Each motion event ended with the front door being closed. That was my focus. Was the door closed and when did it open or was it left open or was it closed and not latched all the way. The next event I witnessed was my wife Tiffany arriving home with groceries. The kids following her like little ducks however with grocery bags in tow. We do not normally bring groceries in through the front door so my first thoughts were I would soon be witnessing where my misery would begin but this was not the case. The door was shut behind them.

As I continued the footage, at 4:38 PM the next motion event was captured with my wife coming out to the front porch with Elijah,Josiah, Isaiah and Caleb behind. I could not help but notice the front door left wide open as they were all on the front porch. My wife made adjustments to the wooden chair on the porch and then sat down on the edge of our front porch on the concrete with her feet on the earth in front of her. It was 76 degrees outside. Quite balmy and a beautiful fall day. Caleb and the other kids seem to play and Caleb sat next to my wife for a few minutes. My 12 year old Elijah moved to the side of the house with the pond and trampoline out of camera view. At some point as the other kids left to the same side of the house to play, Caleb got up and walked off in that direction with the other kids. My wife was then alone on the porch.

Tiffany then stood up and looked to make sure Caleb was OK in the direction where Elijah was and it seemed and I tried to read her lips as she said something to Elijah who was over in that direction as well and out of view of the security camera. Elijah is a great caretaker and watches Caleb well. We trust him. My parents were coming over for dinner and to celebrate my wife’s birthday a day early as we would not be home on her birthday because we planned on being at church like usual on a Wednesday night. My wife was making tacos and asked for help around the house to straighten up. After Tiffany spoke to Elijah and was at peace that Caleb was being looked after, she went back inside to the kitchen. What I could not help but notice is that the front door was still wide open.

Still not sure if this is what happened, my emotions were swelling that this could be it. My wife re-entered the house around 4:48 PM. I thought to myself, it’s 76 degrees out and Caleb was already outside. If she knew Caleb was outside, there would be no need to shut the door on him. If Caleb is inside every door remains a fortress and Caleb was with the other kids. All the other motion events at the doors were normal all day except this one as Caleb was already outside. Even all the other kids closed doors after entering throughout the day as Caleb was in the house. This is our normal procedure. Knowing Caleb was last seen alone at 5:21 PM on the front porch and the front porch was completely empty at 4:48 PM, I had to know more. On the night this happened and I was sitting with police reviewing footage, things were moving quickly and I initially only saw the door open and Caleb last seen on the front porch at 5:21 PM. I did not see the proceeding events of who opened the door and that Caleb walked off with the other kids earlier. Naturally, I did not have enough data because I know Caleb left the porch earlier and no footage showed him come back or at least I thought so.

I quickly turned to the back porch footage where I know there had to be more details because when Elijah found Caleb in the pond at 5:39 PM he came out the back door outside our living room. I started to understand what happened but needed to confirm so I intently watched the footage. At 4:57 PM or there about, I saw the other kids come in and Elijah carrying Caleb back into the house and going inside the kitchen door instead. There are two back doors on the main house only a few feet away. The kitchen has a door and so does the living room that open themselves to the back porch. The living room has a double french style type door. Elijah entered the kitchen door where my wife was still preparing dinner. The camera clearly showed this as I could see Tiffany in the footage in the kitchen. The kitchen door has a storm door so it naturally shut behind him. Elijah stood there holding Caleb in the kitchen and seemingly eventually set him down. This was about the 5:00 PM hour.

Watching this, it became exceedingly clear what happened. I went back to the front porch footage with the knowledge that Caleb was brought back into the house so it was not possible my initial understanding was correct. The footage on the front porch shows Caleb on the front porch by himself at around 5:15 PM. Keep in mind that my security cameras are set to only record motion so sometimes footage can be choppy. I initially never saw Caleb come back to the front porch in the earlier footage from where he left earlier when he first left with the other kids to play but I knew he was last seen alone on the front porch at 5:21 PM.

It was then all the pieces fell together. The kids left to go outside from our front door, my wife was out there and when she went back in, had no reason to shut the door on her other kids and including Caleb when it is 76 degrees outside. They would soon be back in as it was close to dinner. I know it can be habit to shut the door always but not in this case. I understand. A lot is going on in our house always and my parents were coming and it’s 76 degrees and the kids are already outside. My wife knew Caleb was safe with Elijah and the other kids. He always is. What went horribly wrong is that instead of the kids re-entering the front door where they came from and would have shut the door behind them, they came back in through the kitchen back door where my wife was. Elijah was taking Caleb back to my wife. Handing off responsibility, a “changing of the guard” if you will. My wife never left the kitchen, she was making dinner. Because it was windy on October 14th, a towel hanging on the wash line kept the motion camera recording. The next main footage on the back door was Elijah exiting the living room door turning toward the pond and seeing Caleb face down in the pond. He ran obviously screaming and my wife ran from the kitchen with blood curdling screams. I was in the living room as well cleaning Nutella out of the carpet. I smashed through the screen door knocking it off its tracks to meet my wife who was clearly distraught.

Though I won’t be detailing my rescue attempt and the horror that follows, It was all crystal clear how this happened. Caleb left the kitchen while my wife was preparing dinner like he normally would as he is free to roam in the house. The house to us is the safest place for him. What no one else thought or could put the pieces together was that the front door was still wide open. My wife was distracted with dinner. We were all distracted. Caleb took the invitation of a wide open door at 5:15 PM where he spent a full six minutes playing on the front porch because he absolutely loves the outdoors and was last seen walking off the porch in the direction of the pond at 5:21 PM. This is the last time we would see him alive. Watching these events all over did not make it any easier however I understand now how it happened. I can tell myself a hundred times, if we only had a storm door, fence around the pond or any other number of security devices, I am quickly reminded that parents or those who are in charge of protecting the innocent have to be perfect 100% of the time. It only takes one misstep and tragedy can strike in a moment.

I understand what happened that day.  The perfect worst storm occurred and we can’t take it back. This event in the making was a recipe made up of a several bad decisions. Seemingly innocent individual events by themselves compiled together in one mixing bowl for a full serving of misery. I absolutely do not blame my wife. We both added ingredients to the mixture. As we pick up the pieces of what could have been, I am quickly reminded how fragile life is and that God is in full control. It’s not about me and it never was. Everything is for God’s glory. This event will not be foothold for Satan to tear us apart. As I declared at the end of Caleb’s service aloud, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. My faith will not be shaken.

It does absolutely no good to dwell on the things I can’t change. This is not to say I haven’t. I would love to do things over to affect the past, but this is a travesty that can’t be rectified on this side of heaven by wanting a second chance for any one event that was in the mixing bowl. Our greatest challenge is not to examine the individual ingredients too much and have them constantly affect our daily lives by beating ourselves up for an individual bad decision wishing for a do-over. As parents, we need to understand our mistakes so they are not repeated. We have 6 other kids and as much as we try to do things right, we can’t be perfect in every respect. Hindsight is 20/20 and as much as we would love to change the past, we can only affect the present by holding every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ. Realize that this world is all for God’s glory and it’s not about me. To surrender all and one day, it will all be made right in God’s time.

I have been sitting on this blog post in draft for some time. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share but I think parents need to understand how something like this can happen. How individual bad decisions compile or how easily distractions can affect outcomes. Tiffany and I both take some responsibility for this as we added some ingredients. Ultimately God is in control and we will continue to serve Him in everything including the size of our family. We have 6 other children that we continue to focus on. God’s will, not ours be done.

But As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord! (Joshua 24:15)

 

Author: Andrew Dubas

 

 

This security camera footage shows context. This is where Tiffany had the front door open and was relaxing with the kids. The video speaks for itself.

 

Below is the footage of Elijah bringing Caleb back into the house through the kitchen door to Tiffany. He continues to hold him after he gets into the kitchen and then sets him down. Tiffany will remain in the kitchen from this point forward until Caleb is discovered at 5:39 pm.

 

Below is the last footage of Caleb seen alive. It is hard to see because he happened to be playing with a Chinese food dish with water in it. He just wanted more water and just knew where to find some. The pond. Truly sad. He just wanted to play. Breaks my heart but is something I need to share. I miss him dearly.

 

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