‘Long way to go’ on domestic violence
By denise crosby email@example.com Oct 23, 2010 11:39PM
Gabriella Ghobrial’s two-year-old son Riley was killed by his father five years ago.
If evil had a face, it would be Anthony Mangiamele’s.
On Feb. 6, 2005, the Gilberts man snapped pictures of his 2-year-old son waving goodbye, and labeled the undeveloped roll “Riley’s last weekend.”
Then he backed the family’s SUV into the garage, created a makeshift bed for the toddler in the rear of the vehicle, put on the boy’s favorite CDs and started the truck’s engine with the garage door closed.
About eight hours later, police discovered the murder/suicide, along with the film and a barrage of letters and notes Mangiamele had written to his estranged wife, blaming her for the child’s death.
For five years, Gabriella Ghobrial has lived with the nightmare created by the monster.
She’s remarried now, to an Elgin police officer, has two stepchildren, still works as a nurse and has taken to running — lots of running — as a way of dealing with the horror.
But she doesn’t hate her child’s killer. She is, in fact, working on forgiveness because without it she believes she will not be able to get into heaven to see her baby again.
Instead, Ghobrial’s bitterness is focused directly on the system that failed her. Tony is dead and can’t be held accountable, she says.
“But I did what they told me to do. And still my baby died.”
In the two years Ghobrial and Mangiamele dated, he never revealed the monster. He was the perfect boyfriend and fiance, the perfect husband — until the return from the honeymoon.
That’s when he became angry, controlling, physically and verbally abusive. He cut her off from her family, chipping away at her self-esteem.
And her fears intensified after Riley’s birth. In November of 2004, when she talked of leaving him, Mangiamele threatened to harm their son if she carried through with her plans.
Ghobrial says she relayed her concerns to a counselor at work, who told her she was overreacting. But by the end of January, the situation had become so dire — he would often stalk her, flashing pictures of their son — police advised her to take out an emergency order of protection. She appealed to the Elgin Community Crisis Center for assistance, but no court advocate contacted her, she says.
On Jan. 24, 2005, a Monday, Ghobrial spent the entire day at the courthouse trying to get the emergency order of protection. Mangiamele showed up with his own attorney and threatened her again: “It would not take much for me to kill myself and take Riley with me,” he taunted.
With no domestic court judge available at the end of the long day, Kane County Judge William Weir was brought in, finally hearing the case at 5:30 p.m. Despite her tearful pleas that Mangiamele would harm Riley, Weir granted each party an order of protection — and gave unsupervised weekend visitation to the father.
“I had documented all the earlier threats, I told him my concerns,” she says, tears streaming down her face as she relives that fateful day. “But the judge didn’t even read them and called it a case of he said/she said.”
The next week, on Friday, Mangiamele picked up Riley from Ghobrial’s parents’ home in St. Charles, where she was living. She called frequently over the next two days, “but Tony would never put Riley on the phone.”
That Sunday, working a shift at Provena St. Joseph Hospital in Elgin, her fears escalated when she could not connect with Mangiamele. When her parents went to the father’s home at the 6 p.m. pickup time, no one answered the door and the windows were draped in paper. Police arrived, as did a panicked Ghobrial, who opened the doors to the house that was filled with carbon monoxide.
“He killed the baby,” she sobbed to her mother. “I told them he would do it.”
Riley was found next to his baby blanket in the back of the SUV, his arm raised above his head in his napping position. Mangiamele, with antihistamines in his system, was on a step in the garage. Police believe he watched his son die before succumbing to the gas himself.
“Nobody believed he would do this,” says Ghobrial, unable to stem the flow of tears. “I knew he would because it would hurt me the rest of my life.”
There are few in Kane County’s law enforcement or domestic violence field who do not remember Riley’s murder. One official called it the most hateful crime scene he’d ever witnessed.
And no one disagrees the system failed this mother and child.
Despite a process in place, “it is not perfect. We are human,” said Gretchen Vapnar, executive director of the Community Crisis Center in Elgin. “But we are working hard every day to make changes that will prevent this from happening again.”
But she agrees with Vicki Smith, who heads up the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “there’s still a long way to go.”
“If we say there’s a system in place, then it should be there.” says Smith. Unfortunately, “there’s growing evidence too many family courts still aren’t taking the problem seriously ... and too many judges continue to ignore the signs, the histories” of abuse.
Kane County State’s Attorney John Barsanti feels in the last few years there’s more awareness from the bench about “how bad things could go.” Yet he’s not sure whether it will ever be possible for judges to always make the right calls because of how complicated these cases can be. “There’s just too much room for human error,” he says.
No one knows that more than Gabriella Ghobrial.
According to news reports, when Judge Weir turned in his resignation to the Illinois Supreme Court chief justice, no reason was cited. But Ghobrial can’t help but wonder about the date on the single-sentence letter of resignation: Feb. 6, 2009 — the fourth anniversary of Riley’s death.
Attempts to reach Weir were unsuccessful.
After burying her son, Ghobrial contacted a team of lawyers and found out about immunity granted to judges. So she thanked the police for their work and helped dedicate a neighborhood park in Gilberts in Riley’s name. “There is no justice,” she says.
People have asked Ghobrial — who is beautiful, educated and articulate — to become an advocate for domestic violence prevention. But her grief is still too raw, and she chooses instead to put her time and money toward children battling cancer.
“Who would I write to?” she asks. “Nobody listened to me.”