When Christopher Balcer first heard the loud noise early that morning, he thought his family’s cats were chasing each other on the upstairs floor.

He was staying in a bedroom in the basement of his family’s white, ranch-style home in Winthrop and had been chatting with friends online. But that commotion was soon followed by a more disturbing sound. It was like a person yelling the word “no!” Christopher said, but he couldn’t tell whose voice it was.

“It’s really hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t heard the sort of noise a dying person makes,” he said. “It was just this kind of desperate wail, this scream. It was just very haunting.”

It was around 1:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 31, and the day soon turned into a nightmare for 25-year-old Christopher, according to the detailed – and graphic – account he gave to police later that day and described in a recent interview with the Kennebec Journal.

Christopher Balcer said he went upstairs “and I saw my father lying on his back in a pool of his own blood, breathing very slowly, and my brother standing over him with a knife.” Not long after that, police arrived at the home to find the dead bodies of Christopher’s parents, Alice “Ali” Balcer and Antonio “Tony” Balcer.

By nighttime, police had charged their younger son, 17-year-old Andrew Balcer, with the slayings. Now 18, he remains in custody at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, and the state is trying to have him prosecuted as an adult.

Christopher Balcer Staff photo by Joe Phelan

While Christopher gave many details about his family and that day, he was not able to answer the question at the heart of the case: why Andrew might have wanted to kill their parents.

“I had no idea this was coming,” he said.

Ali Balcer was found in her bedroom, face down with a stab wound in her back, and Tony Balcer was found in the kitchen with 13 stab wounds to his chest and torso, according to an affidavit filed by a Maine State Police detective.

The only other person who was in the house on the night of the killings was Christopher, who said he managed to flee the home in a bathrobe after persuading his brother to let him live.

MYSTERIOUS ‘FREE PASS’

If that Monday in late October had been like the ones before it, Ali would have had the day off from her job at the Winthrop Veterinary Hospital.

Alice “Ali” Balcer Family photos

In the morning, she would have exercised for a couple of hours in the basement of her home. Later, she would have grilled a steak for her family’s dinner, as was the Monday custom. They’d eat the meal sitting around the TV, watching “Star Trek” reruns or a film on Netflix. Tony loved the weekly servings of red meat.

Christopher, who had just begun pursuing a degree in computer science at the University of Maine at Augusta, had grown tired of steak, but he enjoyed the regular company of his family.

But that Monday, which happened to be Halloween, was nothing like the ones before it. And Christopher’s life no longer includes steak Mondays, taco Tuesdays or any of the other dinners his mother would plan a week ahead of time in a notebook. There won’t be any more summer trips to Popham Beach, where his dad camped out under an umbrella, and he and Andrew goaded each other to swim in the cold ocean.

On that morning in October, after Christopher saw Andrew standing over their father’s body, he rushed back down into the basement, he said. But when he tried to dial 911, the family’s phone prevented the call from going through immediately.

That’s when Andrew came downstairs with a military-grade knife in one hand and one of his father’s handguns in the other, Christopher said, and asked his older brother if he wanted to die.

But Christopher said he begged Andrew to let him live, and that Andrew told him to go into his bedroom, which was in another part of the basement. A short time later, Andrew returned to the basement and again asked if Christopher wanted to die. When Christopher again responded that he wanted to live, he said, Andrew agreed to spare him and let him leave the home.

“I don’t know what it was about our relationship up to that point that gave me a free pass, as far as the family had been concerned,” Christopher said. “I don’t know if how he felt about me was different from how he felt about the parents, but apparently it was.”

TAKING FLIGHT

Christopher left through the garage and struck his head on the garage door, which was still opening. He sprinted down Pine Knoll Road, knocking on neighbors’ doors, asking to be let in and imploring them to call 911. One neighbor eventually did let Christopher in and provided him with clothes and a glass of water.

At one point during his account, Christopher referred to news reports in the week after the killings, in which a neighbor said she thought a distressed woman had knocked on her door that night.

“(I) was the hysterical woman that several people claimed they heard,” said Christopher, suggesting that his voice might have sounded higher that day. “When you hear me, you hear my voice, imagine me hysterical. It would be a common mistake to make.”

After going to the Balcer home at 1:42 a.m. and apprehending Andrew without incident, police located Christopher at the neighbor’s home and took him to the Winthrop police station, where, he said, the shock finally wore off enough that he could cry.

He spent a period of time at his grandparents’ home in another part of Maine – he declined to say where – before moving to a small apartment in north Augusta.

Another reason Christopher agreed to tell his story, he said, is because news reports have made only passing mention of him, and some online commenters have raised questions about his well-being.

“I’m fine. I have been safe this entire time. At no point, after being picked up by my grandparents, did I ever feel unsafe. I was always cared for. I was clothed. I was fed. I was under a roof. People have been incredibly generous. People have been helping me with all manners of things.”

‘HE DIED THAT NIGHT’

Police and prosecutors haven’t suggested any motives Andrew Balcer might have had for the alleged slayings.

Christopher was reluctant to speculate about his brother’s possible motives. He said he was not aware of Andrew having any mental illness or fights with his parents, but added that because Andrew was a junior in high school, there was “a huge aspect” of his life to which his family was not privy.

Last week, Andrew’s attorney, Walter McKee, said the teenager still was undergoing a court-ordered mental health evaluation, and he anticipated that a report would be completed in April.

Alice and Tony met while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, and Christopher said that his younger brother was also interested in a life at sea. His stated goal was to study at Maine Maritime Academy and eventually captain his own research vessel. He had a heavy workload at Winthrop High School, including two Advanced Placement courses, and was also active in the school’s Latin club, according to Christopher.

“He was very intelligent,” Christopher said. “I know he was stressed at school. When he got home, he was doing homework until dinner, then homework until he showered, then he went to bed. He was doing a lot of homework. That was stressing him out.”

A day after Andrew was arrested on the double murder charges, a Winthrop official echoed those remarks, describing him as “a very good kid … an academically superior student.”

Several classmates described him as “smart, sweet and polite” and expressed surprise that he could have committed the crimes. Two classmates said that in the previous summer, he had sent them messages apologizing for anything he’d done in the past to offend them. It was “eerie,” one of them said.

Christopher also sensed that his younger brother was feeling, at the age of 17, ready to move out of the house. He’d often go on long drives in his Toyota Corolla, sometimes ending up at the Canadian border.

“He was ready to be on his own, but it wasn’t to the degree where he was getting desperate,” Christopher said.

Christopher said that after what happened Halloween morning, he has had no contact with Andrew and doesn’t wish to.

“As far as I’m concerned, he died that night to me,” he said. “‘Hatred’ is a strong word, but it’s also an accurate one. That’s all that’s left.”

Still, Christopher was able to reflect on the good times he and Andrew enjoyed: going to Denny’s together, hanging around their house and making fun of inconsistencies in movies. “We were like Statler and Waldorf,” he said, referring to the cantankerous old men in “The Muppet Show.”

Andrew loved Roman history and collected antique weapons, Christopher said, and in their household, knives were tokens of affection. Their dad gave both of his sons butterfly knives when they were younger. On Andrew’s 17th birthday, Christopher gave him a military-style knife and Tony helped him make a leather sheath to hold it.

That was the same knife Andrew was carrying on Halloween morning.

Even in their last moment together, Christopher said, he thinks Andrew actually was trying to help him.

Christopher said he has been clinically depressed from a young age and tried to commit suicide several times. So when Andrew asked him if he wanted to die, he said, “that was just kind of his way of (thinking) that, ‘Well, maybe he still wants to. Maybe I can help him along.'”

“To a lot of people, that’s kind of a head scratcher,” Christopher continued. “But if you know my history, if you know our history, we helped each other out. He was my best friend up until that point.”

ON HIS OWN

As he was growing up, Christopher said, part of his identity derived from the popularity of his parents.

Many knew Ali from her work at the Winthrop Veterinary Hospital, and before that at the Kennebec Valley Humane Society shelter in Augusta. Tony was active in local motorcycle groups and known locally as “the Rev” for serving as chaplain and officiating at weddings.

Antonio “Tony” Balcer

“The only reputation I would ever have is saying ‘I’m Ali’s son,’ or ‘I’m Tony’s son,'” he said.

But now that Christopher is on his own, he’s mostly focused on his studies and, eventually, finding a job in information security. He’s living on his inheritance and a stipend available to the surviving family members of veterans. He continues to see a counselor.

He tries not to think about his parents too often.

“But occasionally it comes to me,” he said. “The other day I did break down a little bit, because I was flipping through pictures on my phone looking for something, and I saw a picture of Ali lying on a couch sleeping with one of the cats resting on her chest and that just … nope.”

His voice caught slightly. He trailed off.

What made the events of Halloween morning all the more shocking to Christopher is that the previous year had seemed like one of the family’s “best years.” While their home life was not perfect, he said, they were close to one another and made regular trips to the beach and to Sugarloaf ski resort, where they had a cottage.

“We had our points of contention between us, but there was no abuse,” he said. “Between the parents it might escalate to shouting twice a year, maybe. It wasn’t perfect, but we were close as a family.”

The older brother added, “That’s the hardest thing.”

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

ceichacker @centralmaine.com

Twitter: ceichacker