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 3)

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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

"People can go through horrible situations and come through," Voss said. "Some will develop long-running PTSD, and for others it goes away."

Children and adults often react to trauma in the same way, though children's minds aren't fully developed.

"They may experience it differently, but they don't necessarily react differently," Voss said.

For children who experience trauma, adults should be on the lookout for behavioral changes, such as aggressive or withdrawn behavior, school performance problems, and how well they get along with peers, he said.

"If the child is generally doing well with friends and is doing well in school, you may not want to medicalize this and overtreat. That should not be the thing that defines who he or she is if we can avoid it," Voss said. "People should inquire. Where you draw the line depends on the kid. The child may say, 'I don't want to talk about it,' but know that you are there to listen."

Some children, like adults, may feel compelled to talk about the traumatic event, while others don't. Voss said a classic example is a military combat veteran who returns home and never wants to talk about the war.

"Treatment of PTSD can be dicey. On the one hand, you may want to have a person talk about it, but you might hope that the memory would fade," he said. "Unfortunately, for people with true PTSD, they would remain vulnerable for it to come back out. ... There is even a category called delayed onset."


After a day of playing with his family at the family gathering, Ja'kai had little interest in sitting down to talk more about his father's trial. After a few minutes of answering questions about having to testify and recalling his mother's death, Ja'kai repeated a line he uses often to say he's had enough.

"I don't want to talk about it," he said, politely but firmly, turning his attention back to a handheld Pokemon video game.

When asked about his favorite sport or friends at school, Ja'kai eagerly looked up from the video game.

"I'm really good at soccer," he said. His favorite position? Goalie.

"I'm really good at it. Probably someone gets one goal, but the others all miss," he said, switching from one-word answers to talking eagerly in complete sentences.

He said he has a lot of friends at school and likes being a big brother, though sometimes his younger siblings can be annoying.

Although Ja'kai seems well adjusted after all he's been through, Pat Gerber said she worries constantly about how he will grow up.

As the oldest child, he will likely remember life with both his mother and father at home, his father's aggressive behavior, the domestic abuse and the instability brought about by that kind of home life, his grandmother said.

She said she and Mark will do everything they can to ensure the children have a loving, supportive and structured home life, but she worries that it may be a question of "nature versus nurture," that he is Joel Hayden's son.

"We don't know how they're going to grow up," she said. "That's all we want is for him to be normal."

One of the state police detectives who investigated the case wrote two sealed letters to Ja'kai, one to open on his ninth birthday on Thursday, and the other to open on his 18th birthday.

Even his grandmother doesn't know what's inside the envelopes, but she remembers the detective telling her that Ja'kai is a "very special little boy."

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:


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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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