Charlotte Observer: Mother Laments Her Lost Boy, Charged With Murder
Shelby Hodges of South Carolina cries as she talks about her son, charged in the killings of his father, Christian Liewald, and his stepmother, Cassie Buckaloo. "I know how he was," she said of Liewald, her ex-husband, whom she said was violent. Photo: Robert Lahser Shelby Hodges spread photos of a blue-eyed boy with wisps of blond curls across her couch Tuesday afternoon. Her son was only an infant in a portrait that shows Hodges cradling him as his father, Christian Hans Liewald, smiles over her shoulder. Many are wondering why the little boy in the photo, now 15, would be accused in the shooting deaths of father and stepmother. But Hodges says her son is the victim of a violent and controlling father. "I know how he was," she said of Liewald. "I lived with him. It was a nightmare." Neighbors heard screams, then gunshots, early Monday at Liewald's home on Buxton Street in southwest Mecklenburg. Then Liewald's son called 911, saying he'd shot his 43-year-old father and his stepmother, 24-year-old Cassie Meghan Buckaloo. He told police he'd wait for them on a nearby street corner. He's now charged with two counts of murder, armed robbery and attempted auto theft. State law prevents police from releasing his name because he is a minor. Police haven't released a motive in the killings, but a trail of court documents and ex-wives tells a story of abusive relationships that preceded Monday's shooting. Liewald was married at least three times before Buckaloo, according to court records. Hodges and another ex-wife told the Observer that Liewald was a violent man, and that they feared for his son's safety. Hodges and Liewald began dating in 1995 after meeting at a club. He'd send her flowers and poems, she said. "He swept me off my feet," she said during an interview at her South Carolina home. Hodges and Liewald were married in 1996, and their son was born months later. But Liewald soon became aggressive and controlling. Hodges said that when her son was 10 months old, Liewald started spanking him as he cried in his crib. After they separated, a bitter custody battle for the boy began in 1998. Liewald claimed Hodges yelled at their child and said she was sorry she ever gave birth to him, according to court papers. He also claimed that she refused to take medication prescribed to her for a "chemical imbalance." Hodges filed a counterclaim for custody, saying that Liewald abused drugs and alcohol. He punched holes in walls and threw furniture "in a rage," she claimed. The couple were divorced in 2000. Hodges later filed for an annulment, claiming Liewald's divorce from another woman wasn't finalized when they wed. Full custody was eventually granted to Liewald after the court determined Hodges had not complied with an order to undergo a psychiatric evaluation following three "suicide gestures or attempts," records show. Hodges received supervised visitation rights. She said she was terrified of Liewald. He'd threatened to kill her and burn her mother's house down, she said. The last time she saw her son, her only child, was at Cherry Park in Rock Hill when he was 6. They spent about two hours together. The most recent photo she has of him - one that shows him smiling with his arm wrapped around her neck - was taken that day. "He was clinging to me," Hodges said. "Something wasn't right." Liewald's next wife filed for a protective order against him in York County in 2003. She claimed in court documents that she had "experienced his anger and threats more than once in the past month." Liewald was later found not guilty of criminal domestic violence. The same ex-wife, who asked not to be named, told the Observer that Liewald was verbally and physically abusive during their marriage. She said Liewald would scream at his son. The boy was about 5 years old at the time. "I could hear him whipping him," she said. "It wasn't a way you should whup a child." Later she'd see belt marks on the boy's legs. The woman's daughter - Liewald's former stepdaughter - told the Observer that when her mother and Liewald separated, he flattened her mother's car tires and threw all their belongings outside. Then he set the pile on fire. "There's a reason why he did this," she said of Liewald's son. "I'm not saying it's right, but there's a reason." But a friend of Buckaloo, the boy's slain stepmother, said she never saw signs of abuse in Liewald's home. Heather Hunt said she and Cassie Buckaloo went to Fort Mill High School together. Buckaloo was active in her church - she taught Sunday school - and was always quick to offer her help, Hunt said. She said she never heard anything that might suggest Liewald was abusive. The couple did separate for a few weeks recently, she said, but "they worked everything out and got back together." Liewald's son was a nice boy, who seemed to get along with Buckaloo, she said. "She loved (him) like her own," Hunt said. But neighbors have said Liewald was an odd character who carried a gun and had a history of clashes with people in the neighborhood. One neighbor said Liewald shot and wounded him several years ago during an argument. Records show Liewald was charged in 2007 with assault with a deadly weapon, but the charges were later dropped. Although she hadn't seen her son in years, Hodges said, she'd receive updates on the boy occasionally from Liewald's relatives. About six months ago, she said, she heard that her son had been home-schooled for several years. She called Mecklenburg Department of Social Services, she said, and asked someone to check on the boy. It's unclear whether DSS investigated. She said she feared that Liewald was isolating him, just like he isolated her from friends and family. "I don't know what went on in that house," she said. "Something happened. Something bad happened. "I just think he snapped. I think he had more than he could bear." Her son is now being held in a juvenile detention facility, where she hopes to visit him for the first time in years. "He doesn't deserve any more pain," she said. "I feel like he's been in prison, but now he's free." Staff writer Fred Clasen-Kelly and staff researcher Maria David contributed.