By Mary O’KEEFE
Ten years ago the Crescenta Valley community was rocked with the news of the murders of two young teenagers at Valley View Elementary School. The news of their death spread like wildfire as neighbors tried to find out any information they could about this tragedy.
“It happened here?” and “Those poor boys,” were the most common remarks at every diner from Rocky Cola to Jeremy’s.
As information trickled out from Glendale police of the brutality of the murders and that the suspects were from the area, the community held its collective breath. Not here. Not our kids.
But the victims and the suspect, who in the end was convicted of the murders, were from Crescenta Valley. The tragedy that the boys’ parents – all of them – faced was felt throughout the foothills.
It was Blaine Talmo, 14, and Christopher McCulloch, 13, who were found murdered on July 23, 2000. For Aileen Bristow, Christopher’s mother, this is a 10 year anniversary no mother wants to go through.
“He was fun, easy going and wanted to make you laugh,” said Bristow of her son, Christopher. “He was always smiling. That was what one of his teachers told me at his memorial. She would never forget that smile.”
Sitting down to speak with Bristow about the 10 year anniversary of her son’s death there is a sense of uneasy resolve. In her heart there are still questions of how one boy, Michael Demirdjian, 16 at the time he was convicted of the murders, could have committed such a violent crime, but there is also this never ending feeling of loss.
“I am still here after 10 years. At the time of his murder I didn’t think I would survive,” she said.
Because of this horrendous crime, Christopher has been remembered more for how he died than how he lived. After 10 years it is time to remember his vibrant life and those who loved him and to look at how those who are left behind now deal with the loss.
“He had so many friends,” Bristow said.
He loved joking around with his friends that is how his nickname Casper came about. Christopher had a fascination with those of Hispanic descent. In fact he had told some of his friends he was part Mexican, Bristow said.
“But he was Scottsman through and through,” she added. “He spent half of his life in Scotland and half here [America].”
His friends knew this as well and because he was as white as a ghost they began to call him “Casper.”
There are still Casper toys that had been given to Christopher around Bristow’s home.
“He wanted to be a fireman,” Bristow said. “And he loved cars. By the time he was 23 he would own three cars he would tell me.”
She thought if he firefighting didn’t work out he surely would have been a mechanic.
“He had his problems in school, here and in Scotland,” she added.
After Christopher had enrolled in school in the states he was diagnosed as dyslexic. Bristow said she knew he had problems when he was in school in Scotland but the teachers there did not discover the problem. Once he was diagnosed they knew how to help him.
He did well in English. He received a President Achievement Award at Rosemont Middle School for his work.
“I was so proud. I still have that award,” Bristow said. “Two weeks before his death we had a real heart to heart.”
She said it was a conversation that just happened. They spoke of his birth and Bristow’s life before she had him.
“I kept telling him how much I loved him. He would just say ‘OK Mom, I know, I know. I love you too’,” she said.
He was a good kid but had made a bad choice at the end of his days at Rosemont. He had been arrested for possession of marijuana. He told officers he was getting it for a friend but would never reveal whom that friend.
“I got that call it was devastating. I couldn’t talk to him for about three hours,” Bristow said.
She immediately got her son into therapy and worked to follow all the court rules. Christopher knew he had made a mistake and had been working to correct his path. He told his mother how excited he was to start at Crescenta Valley High School and had planned to join the football team.
Bristow knew her son was going through a rough time. She and her husband had recently separated. She had taken Christopher with her but had to leave her younger son with his father.
“It was difficult but I didn’t even know where we were going to live when I left,” she said.
Her boss and his wife offered her there guest house in La Cañada, which she accepted.
“Christopher was upset because of the [split] but then to leave his friends that was devastating,” she said.
To ease the burden of the move Bristow allowed Christopher to spend as much time as he could with his friends in La Crescenta. It was not uncommon for him to spend nights with friends in both La Crescenta and La Cañada.
There were still issues but Bristow felt that the therapy was helping Christopher. The week before his death he had spent time with a kid from his church group doing yard work.
“He was doing so good and was happy,” she said.
On the Friday before the tragic weekend Bristow left for work.
“He was asleep when I left,” she said.
They had a scheduled court appointment the next Monday and she knew that both were a little nervous but her son was doing well.
“But I had the good reports,” she said.
When she came home Friday Christopher was not there. Bristow couldn’t believe he would do anything to jeopardize the court meeting.
“He didn’t come home and I didn’t do what I usually do which is to ring up everybody to see if he was there. I thought this time he will have to call me,” she said. “In hindsight that was something I should not have done.”
Next week the story continues with the events of that fateful night and its aftermath.