Sunday, December 13, 2009

Herhold: A lethal child custody battle

Herhold: A lethal child custody battle

By Scott Herhold

Mercury News Columnist

Posted: 12/13/2009 12:00:00 AM PST

Updated: 12/13/2009 08:35:33 AM PST

Click photo to enlarge

Daniel Tilbury, 34, is charged with killing his ex-wife,... ( courtesy sc county dept of corre )

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This is the week that Fabian Gonzales is scheduled to tell his story in court, the story he told the officers on the night his fiancée was killed, the story he told me as he made dinner for his children. It is bloody and cruel but it is his story, a raw scar that will not fade.

In his narrative, one moment sticks in memory like the jab of a bayonet to the gut. It was the moment when his fiancée, Kristine Ramos, 33, looked at her ex-husband and said, "No, don't" — her last words before the shots that killed her.

"You think when this happens, it only happens in the movies," said Gonzales, 38, a stocky materials assembler at a high-tech company. "My thought was, 'Oh, my god, it's really happening.' I still hear the way she said, 'No, don't.' "

Several years ago, I swore I would attempt no more stories about child custody battles. There were too many complications, too much truth for any one side to claim it all. And it would take me far too long to parse the real facts.

This story, however, has a victim who cannot be anything but a victim: Kristine Ramos. It has a defendant: her ex-husband, Daniel Tilbury, 34. And it has a narrator: Fabian Gonzales, who tells the story as a tribute to his love for her and the children she left behind.

Even when this week's preliminary hearing is concluded — and after the case is eventually tried or settled — it will be the children who bear the brunt of this

tragedy, the unlikely combination of seven kids who melded far better than anyone had a right to expect.

Kristine Ramos, an independent and resourceful woman who was the daughter of former KPIX newsman Manny Ramos, started living with Gonzales four years before her death, when her marriage to Tilbury had disintegrated.

Ramos and Tilbury had agreed to share custody of their three kids, known as "the boys:" — Hunter, now 8; Jacob, 7; and Justin, 5. The boys were joined by four more kids: Gabriel, now 15, Kristine's son by a previous relationship; Isaac, 10, Gonzales' son from a previous relationship; and two children they had together: Madison, now 3, and Aidan, 2.

Despite the odds, this seemed to work in a creaky fashion. When the family went into a restaurant, no one talked of blending. The kids got along.

Then, a few months before the shooting, Tilbury got a job as a network engineer in Washington state — and by Gonzales' account, talked of taking "the boys" with him.

Court order

Kristine Ramos was determined that this would not happen. Fabian says she preferred to compromise with her ex-husband. But when the idea of taking the boys out of state persisted, she obtained a court order giving her 100 percent custody.

"I don't think he could handle the loss of control," Gonzales explained of Tilbury. "Once he moved to Washington and he realized we'd have the kids 100 percent of the time, he lost the last bit of control, and it drove him over the edge."

By Gonzales' account, that set in motion the events of Dec. 29, 2008. Several days before, Ramos had let "the boys" visit their father at his parents' house. This time, she called to tell her ex — firmly — that she wanted them back. The police say Tilbury then drove over to her house in South San Jose.

"Daniel walked toward us and pulled out a gun and shot Kristine several times, killing her in the presence of our kids," Gonzales said. "It was like I wasn't even there. He was dead focused on her."

The other side

Is there another side to the story? Did the prospect of losing custody of his boys push Tilbury to rage? Tilbury's attorney, deputy public defender Sylvia Perez, didn't return my call. Neither did Tilbury's parents, who had hosted his kids on the night Ramos was killed.

We know that there is a victim, a defendant and a narrator. And that narrator now is trying to raise half that family on his own: Isaac, Madison and Aidan. The three "boys" live with Tilbury's parents, and Gabriel lives with a relative of Kristine's. Gonzales says he tries to see the boys every other weekend.

You realize that Fabian Gonzales, this bereft and eloquent father who has to rise at 5 a.m. to get his kids ready for school before leaving for work, is trying to hold together the strands of his family by telling the story of what ripped them apart.

"How can I tell these kids just how great a mother she was?" he asked. "The single most important thing in her life was her children. She lived and died for her children."

Contact Scott Herhold at or 408-275-0917.


Unknown said...

Let's get the facts straight:
The "narrator" Fabian Gonzales at the time of Christine's death was twice convicted on narcotics charges (public record). His current arrests are in double digits.
Daniel was informed of their affair on the day he was to move the family into the new home he'd bought - and never saw inside. He later found out through his health insurance that Christine was pregnant, no she never told him. Christine bore two children by Fabian while married to Daniel and paid for by Daniel's insurance. She was still asking to use Daniel's health coverage for one of her children the week she died. Because Daniel cared for and was concerned for the child, he agreed.

Daniel had custody of his three children. According to court testimony (public records) at the family court hearings, Christine would regularly fail to pick the children up for visitation, or return them after 24 hours or less.

Daniel planned to turn down the promotion because it required a move out of state for two reasons: it would take the boys away from their mother, whom he believed they should have access to, and he did not believe Christine would agree - it had taken 3 years to get the divorce finalized.

It was Christine who told Daniel to take the promotion, there would be no problem taking the boys out of state. When Daniel had their home set up in Washington and returned to move the boys, he was served with custody papers citing abandonment (nicely planned). I believe that's called bait-and-switch.

Gary Tilbury said...

Actually the true story is slowly being revealed by the children (my grandsons and Aiden and Madison their half brother and sister. You may wonder why four years later the true victims are just now voicing the abuse they suffered at the hands of Fabian Gonzales. It is because no one asked them before and they were to traumitized at the ages of 1-7 to say anything. As a matter of public record which Mr Herhold was to busy to fact check his story Mr Gonzales had over 20 arrests which included drugs, witness intimitation, assault, and domestic violence. Recently this fine father walked into a fire station and turned over his last 2 children and told the police later "He wasn't sure the kids were his any way" The police report further stated that the children when asked if they were punished by their father said yes he spanked them they were bad; like when they had to sneak food because they were hungry. This is the father of the year according to Mr Herold, the Mercury News and the Santa Clara County DA.
I feel sorry for our society that the media and the Judicial System that is supposed to protect us and provide us with information we can trust is so lazy and fails to do its job of providing Justice and accurate information. That is why I and my friends and family no longer read the Mercury News

Gary Tilbury said...

I would also like to point out that 3 years ago when this article ran I told the Mercury News to remove the family photo since as the legal guardians of my grandchildren I did not give them permission to publish their photo. I was assured it would be removed and yet here it still is.
Also if there is real journalist or writer out there that wants to write an accurate story feel free to contact me.