May 13, 2013

After testifying against killer dad, son heals

But the 8-year-old's relatives still worry about the impact of seeing his mother murdered and recounting it in court.

By Scott Dolan
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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Ja'kai Hayden, 8, left, spends time with his brother Javanni, 3, and cousins Courtney Courtemanche, 22, of Somersworth, NH and Brooke Spence, 11, right, of Dover, NH, on Saturday, March 9, 2013 during a family gathering in Portland.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

In this provided photo, Renee Sandora with her son Ja'kai.

Additional Photos Below

"We just told him we were very proud of him," Pat Gerber said.

Mark Gerber took Ja'kai out to lunch as a treat afterward, but news of the trial had already spread, she said.

"They went to lunch at Burger King, and it was on TV and he said, 'Oh, Papa, look,'" Pat Gerber said.


Until the trial, Ja'kai's only reference to the night his mother died had been to say, "That's when the bad thing happened," or something similar. During counseling sessions, he would play out the events of that night. But more often, he would simply say, "I don't want to talk about it."

Months after the trial, Ja'kai still isn't eager to talk about it.

"It was hard. Very," he said about having to testify at the trial. "I don't know what to think about."

Pat Gerber and Ja'kai both spoke about the trial last month at the family's second big gathering since Hayden was sentenced Feb. 5. They drove to Portland with Pat's mother, Barbara Sandora, and Ja'kai's younger siblings -- his brother Javanni and twin 22-month-old sisters, Jiselle and Julissa -- for lunch at Beaulieu's house.

The boys sat on the couch in Beaulieu's living room in the arms of their older cousins, laughing and playing video games, while their twin sisters played dress-up with toy tiaras and halos, topping off their outfits with sunglasses. When their uncle Mike Sandora arrived, the girls called out his name and clung to him.

"I can't explain how difficult it is," said Pat, sitting in the kitchen for a brief spell without a child in her arms. "I worry so much about these kids. I don't know if it's because they're Renee's kids or because they're grandkids."

Pat Gerber said that before Hayden killed her daughter, she would see her and the kids every day. Her daughter was her best friend, they lived near each other on purpose, and when they were apart, they talked on the phone or texted each other constantly.

After Renee's death, Pat and her husband had to make a decision about what would happen to the children. Mark had never had children of his own before, but didn't hesitate to decide that they would take in all four.

"He said, 'They're not going anywhere,"' Pat recalled. "We wanted to keep them together. We knew it would be hard."

Pat said the hardest day of her life was sitting Ja'kai down to tell him that his mother had died and gone to heaven and that he would be coming to live with her and "Papa."

She added that the boys, Ja'kai and Javanni, still call her "Grandma," but the younger girls now call her "Mama." Mark Gerber is "Papa" to them all.

Ja'kai has undergone a lot of counseling since witnessing the murders and continues to see a therapist, but is taking a break from his counseling sessions.

"He went after the trial, and (the counselor) talked to him. But now she wants us to just be a family," Pat Gerber said.

She said the boy had nightmares at first, and she worried that they would continue. He still occasionally has bad dreams, but not like she had worried early on.

Carlyle Voss, the former assistant chief of psychiatry at Maine Medical Center, said people who undergo a traumatic or very frightening event often react in different ways, but psychiatrists have found there are common stages.

Within the first weeks and up to three months, a person may experience fear, anxiety and have bad dreams. That stage of acute stress may fade and does not necessarily lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, said Voss, who has not met Ja'kai and spoke only generally about people who have been witnesses to traumatic situations.

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Additional Photos

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Joel Hayden was convicted of murdering Trevor Mills and Renee Sandora in front of Hayden and Sandora's 7-year-old son.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Ja'kai Hayden, 8, smiles while spending time with his grandmother Patricia Gerber, left, and relative Paula Beaulieu during a family gathering in Portland.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

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Ja'kai Hayden, 8, laughs while spending time with siblins and cousins, Saturday, March 9, 2013, during a family gathering in Portland.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

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In this Jan. 14, 2013 file photo, Renee Sandora's mother, Patricia Gerber, and her step-father, Mark Gerber, meet with reporters outside the Cumberland County Courthouse after Joel Hayden was found guilty of killing Sandora, the mother of his four children.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer


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