New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Kenzie Houk’s family is “coming along” since she was taken from them five years ago.
Her daughters — Jenessa, 13 next month, and Adalynn, who turned 9 on Wednesday — are growing up, Houk’s parents Jack and Debbie Houk of Shenango Township said.
The 26-year-old Houk and her unborn baby died Feb. 20, 2009, when she was shot in the New Beaver Borough farmhouse she shared with her daughters, her fiancé, Chris Brown, and his son Jordan, then 11.
Now 16, Jordan was found to be responsible for the deaths. However, that determination by Lawrence County Judge John W. Hodge has been overturned by the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the case was ordered back to the county. An appeal of the Superior Court ruling will be argued before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court next month.
“Both girls are doing well in school, have friends and are surrounded by family,” their grandmother said. “But of course, they miss their mother.
“I miss her too,” said Debbie Houk, who still stops almost every day at Parkside Cemetery, where her daughter and unborn grandson are buried.
The graves are decorated for holidays and special occasions, including Kenzie’s April 20 birthday and the anniversary of her death. Family and friends gathered at the grave Thursday — the fifth anniversary — followed by a meal at the family home.
“Adalynn said to serve her birthday cake after the memorial service,” said Debbie Houk, who shares a birthday with her granddaughter.
“This has forever ruined her birthday,” she said. “It’s a hard day for us. We don’t celebrate.”
Debbie Houk said she will still observe Adalynn’s birthday with cupcakes, but there won’t be a party for a week or two.
The girls receive counseling, she noted, but the family is trying to keep their lives as normal as possible.
Both follow in their mother’s athletic footsteps and both have chosen Olympic gold-medal-winning gymnast Gabby Douglas and their mother as role models.
Jenessa is a cheerleader for football and basketball and plays basketball on an AAU traveling team. She anticipates adding volleyball and track this year. Adalynn, who loves to read, is enrolled in gymnastics and this year began learning basketball fundamentals.
At 11 or 12, Debbie Houk recalled, Kenzie was involved in gymnastics and took part in national competition in Nashville, Tenn.
“She finished sixth,” her mother said. “We were encouraged to enroll her in a program where she could compete and be trained by international coaches.
“It would have been expensive and taken all of her time. We didn’t do it,” Debbie Houk said. “Looking back, I wish we had. A lot of things might have been different.”
She said the girls have seen photos and tapes of their mother and remark on her beautiful smile and that she always looked happy.
“That was her gift. She was good with people.”
A beautician until she became pregnant for the third time, Kenzie Houk entertained her daughters by painting their fingernails, doing up their hair and putting on music and dancing with them, their grandmother said.
“They say they remember that. I hope they will not forget her. In the meantime, I keep them busy and they keep me busy.”
Houk family members said they have been disappointed at how the case has played out and cannot believe it has stretched out for five years without resolution.
Debbie Houk said she believes the police have pieced together what happened and solved the case.
“It is not possible that it could have been anyone else.”
But in the five years since the shooting, “Jordan has not received the help he needs,” she said. “Without any help or treatment, he can’t be rehabilitated.
“He needs to admit what he’s done and show some remorse,” she continued. “I’ve never received the answers I want. I don’t want pity, but sometimes I get so angry.”
Jordan, who has been in custody since his arrest on Feb. 21, 2009, has never admitted guilt in the shooting.
“They said he’s getting counseling because his mother abandoned him as a baby,” Debbie Houk said.
Jack Houk, who noted he has developed health issues that may be the result of stress, said, “Every day I think of my daughter. My family has been hurt so much and for so long.
“What I would like to see is for the boy to get some help and for us to get freedom from this hurt.”
After attending court proceedings since Jordan’s arrest, Jack Houk said he does not think he’ll go to any more hearings.
Since Jordan’s adjudication and disposition — the juvenile justice system equivalent of a guilty verdict and sentencing — Houk family members have been present every six months when Lawrence County Judge John W. Hodge reviews the case. Those evaluations are required by state law to determine if the youth is receiving adequate treatment.
“All we hear is how wonderfully he’s doing academically,” Jack Houk said. “It’s a shame that he’s received no help whatsoever.”
After being found responsible for the deaths on April 13, 2012, Jordan was sent first to a juvenile facility in Chambersburg, then to George Junior Republic in Grove City.
“He gets all the breaks. It’s just not fair for the Houks,” Jack Houk said. “I just don’t get it.”
Over the years, Debbie Houk said, she is trying to summon up forgiveness for the boy accused in the death of her daughter and grandson.
“I’m not religious, but this is what we’re told to do. A little remorse on his part would help.”
She said she also wishes things had gone differently between her family and Jordan’s father.
“We lost a daughter and a grandchild. In all of this time, Chris has sat through hearings as if he does not care.
“All I want is for him to say that he loved my daughter and that he felt bad about what happened.”