Tragic fire kills 32 defenseless horses, leads to much sadness, but with the kindness of friends and strangers alike the barn will rebuild

On a chilly November evening, flames raged through a barn at Valley View Acres in unincorporated Woodstock killing 32 horses and breaking the hearts of many who loved them.

“We lost everything,” said Amber Bauman, who with her husband Tyson and their three children have owned the farm for about eight years.

In recent days she has found herself knee deep in the ash and twisted metal sifting through, searching for what is left of the horses and the life she so loved.

She said, with tears in her eyes, it is her duty to be out in the debris no matter how painful because “Those are my horses … I need to be in there … That was my life.”

The horses ranged in age from 1 to 31. In the fire she lost 18 of her own horses and 14 others owned by borders. She loved all of them.

Bauman said she knew each one “intimately … knew every whinny.”

“They all (had) their own personalities,” she said.

One horse, Heaven ”went to college” with Bauman. While attending Northern Illinois University in DeKalb she boarded her in a nearby stable.

Heaven died in the fire with her foals Bobby, 6, and Ferrah, 2.

Eve, who Bauman bought as a yearling, also died. Bauman was 10 and she bought her with her own savings of $82.73 on New Year’s Eve. Eve was the first horse her daughter Alexis road on at just two weeks old, Bauman recalled carrying Alexis on her chest in a baby carrier wearing her little helmet.

Each New Year’s she was sure to ride Eve to celebrate the day she bought her.

On a side table, inside Bauman’s home sets a framed photo taken on their last New Years Eve ride together.

Out in the pasture are mounds where the horses have been buried. Upon the mounds are flowers, Christmas wreaths, apples and carrots placed there by visitors.

Alexis Bauman, 11, placed a love letter on one mound written to her horse Dusty: “I love you even though you bucked me.”

Children who took riding lessons from Bauman hand painted 32 rocks, each with the name of a horse buried beneath the mounds.

Bauman said visitors come daily to pay their respects. She says it’s like that old adage “The barn door’s always open.” She often look out her window to see someone walking out to the pasture.

The rubble of what had been home to the horses sits eerily outside her kitchen window. She tries to avoid seeing it by parking her truck in front of the window.

“It’s gonna be a long road … but hopefully we can clean up this mess,” she said.

The investigation into the fire, which started when the Baumans were attending an end of the year horse gala is still under investigation, authorities said.

Adam Bauman, 15, rushed to the barn when he noticed the fire and tried to get the horses out. But, as is typical horse behavior, they would not flee their stalls, his mother said.

In the weeks since, the deep pain has somewhat eased by the kindness of the local horse community and strangers from across the country.

Bauman said daily she receives phone calls and donations of money, saddles, bridals, horse blankets and other tack. Nearby school children raised $1,600 for Bauman and a local vet has donated equine medicines. Items just arrive on her front porch, she said.

But most endearing are the donations of horses.

In the last few weeks she has had seven horses and ponies donated from as far as northern Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida.

Cheryle Schultz of Black Creek Wis. met Bauman in 2011 at an American Warm Blood inspection event. She learned of the fire through Facebook and reached out to offer two of her own 18 horses.

After spending some time with the horses in their stalls, brushing them, talking to them and watching them run in the pasture Bauman chose two male youngsters named Diesel and Scooter. Or, as Bauman says, the horses chose her. “We don’t pick horses, our horses pick us.”

“I own a horse again,” Bauman recently beamed when telling the story of finding her “two boys.”

Schultz said she gave Bauman the horses because she “can’t imagine the pain she felt.”

“All I could see is her going out to her barn everyday and having no one there to love,” she said adding that for horse people, horses are therapy.

“If you can’t go out there to love them you are losing a piece of your soul,” Schultz said. “Where do we go for therapy when something terrible happens, if not to the barn?”
Bauman said seeing horses out in the pasture again has brought her some peace. “It’s like (taking) one step forward.”

Bauman said she has only felt love and support from the horse community. Her borders and clients have all stuck with her. One barn in Marengo donates horses so she can continue to provide riding lessons and another barn in Prairie Grove had let her use their space to provide the lessons. She recently signed a lease with a barn in Crystal Lake where she will board her new horses and provide lessons.

She has 97 students and teaches up to 200 lessons a week.

Bauman said she is moved by “the outpouring of love from people” especially from those she has never even met, including local children who she heard have given their allowance money to help the barn.

Cindy Pyke, owner of A’la Fin Rancho horse farm in DePere Wis. learned about the fire through a friend. Though she did not know the Baumans she reached out and offered two of her 21 horses.

She was sad for those borders who had only one horse and wanted to do something to help.

“I’m a horse lover and I know if you only have one and you lose it, that’s pretty traumatic,” Pyke said. “It’s like losing your best friend. … It’s just heartbreaking.”
Kathy Hinz of Crystal Lake, whose daughter Natalie lost her horse Lightening McQueeny in the fire, recently took a ride with Bauman to Pyke’s farm.

Natalie Hines, 14, chose a mare named Tivo Miz Quijote. Another border joined them and brought back Cee Cee.

Hinz said dealing with the fire and the loss of her daughter’s horse “is a painful process.”

She is amazed at Bauman’s strength and the way she puts her borders before herself in her efforts to continue lessons and find them new horses.

Hinz described the closeness of the families at Valley View Acres and the shared strength and determination to help rebuild the barn.

“While we never forget the souls we lost, we continue to focus on the strength of each other,” Hinz said. “Sometimes it is hard, but we continue to remind each other that forward is the only option we have.”

The morning after bringing the new horses to the pasture at Valley View, Hinz went out for a visit.

“It was so nice to see passed where the barn was and see horses roaming out in the field,” she said. “it was very, very peaceful.”

The tragedy has broken Bauman’s heart but has not stopped or embittered her.

“We will rebuild,” she said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, this wasn’t built in a day. Our barn was like a family. I need to have that family again. We just need to get back to normal.”

Johnsburg Illinois missing boy’s mystery continues: 12 years later no real answers, plenty of theories, peace for no one

While one attorney prepares a new trial for Shane Lamb, a key witness in the notorious 12-year-old Johnsburg missing person’s case, another attorney works to free the man she says was wrongfully convicted based on Lamb’s testimony.

Last week, a private attorney out of DuPage County working pro bono for Lamb who is being held in the McHenry County jail on $300,000 bond, filed motions before Judge Sharon Prather in preparation for Lamb’s January trial. De Luca is asking for a change in venue, disqualification the state’s attorney’s office from prosecuting Lamb and suppression of the line up in which Lamb was identified by a witness.

Lamb, charged with residential burglary, possession of stolen firearms and being an  “armed habitual criminal,” is facing upwards of about 40 years in prison if found guilty.  He is accused of stealing a safe from the McHenry  home of an acquaintance.  The safe, which has not yet been recovered, contained a number of guns and rounds of ammunition.

But Lamb’s story in the McHenry County courtroom began years earlier.

Besides his first felony conviction for attempted murder at the age of 14, and multiple convictions for drugs and battery charges — Lamb is best known locally as the star witness whose testimony landed Mario Casciaro, of  Fox Lake, in prison for 26 years for the 2002 murder of Brian Carrick, 17.

Lamb has recently recanted his story and claims to have been coached on what to say on camera in exchange for full immunity in Carrick’s disappearance and presumed death by chief of the criminal division for McHenry County Michael Combs.

Casciaro, 31, who sits in Menard Correctional Center, stood trial twice for the murder of Brian Carrick who worked with him in his family’s Johnsburg grocery store.

The first trial in 2012 ended in mistrial. In 2013 Casciaro was found guilty of first-degree murder by intimidation, what legal experts say is a rare conviction.

In both trials the case weighed predominately on Lamb’s testimony. Lamb, 30, said under oath that Casciaro was selling drugs in the small town by using kids like himself and Carrick.

When Carrick owed Casciaro a drug debt of nearly $500, Lamb said on Friday night Dec. 20, 2002, Casciaro called him to the store as the “enforcer” of the drug operation to help collect the money.

Lamb told two juries he argued with Carrick inside a produce cooler at the store and became violent when the boy argued back. Lamb testified he punched Carrick out cold. He said Carrick, who had a known heart condition for which he had open heart surgery when he was 10, “fell out.”

Lamb said he went down backward into the cooler bleeding and unconscious. Casciaro then told him to leave, which he did, and he never saw Carrick again. Lamb said that over the years he would ask Casciaro what happened to Carrick to which Casciaro would respond “don’t worry about it,” or “keep your mouth shut.”

Carrick’s body has never been found.

Lamb, who said he never meant to kill or hurt Carrick, maintained throughout both trials that he would not have been at the store that night had Casciaro not called him.

But today, Lamb, facing serious prison time on his new theft charges, said he lied on the stand in both trials.

He now claims he was never at the store that night and Casciaro also has no knowledge of what happened to Carrick. He further claims that Combs coached him on what to say in order to convict Casciaro.

Jonathan Masur,  law professor at the University of Chicago law school, said in order for Casciaro to be granted a new trial or be released from prison the judge first must believe Lamb’s new tale, but it’s likely she won’t.

“I have pages of law books littered with key witnesses who have later recanted their testimony and courts that have refused to believe the new information,” Masur said.

“If the judge is convinced that what (Lamb) is saying right now is correct … this is momentous this is enormously important,” Masur said.  “(Casciaro) could very well be released and get a new trial at which he might very well be acquitted. “If what (Lamb) is saying is truthful, then the police and prosecutors involved have committed crimes.”

But Masur added it is a “very big if” whether Prather will believe Lamb’s recantation. Prather, the presiding judge in both trials and other court matters related to this case, knows the history and the evidence.

Over the years, Lamb has been on record telling different stories about Carrick’s disappearance. In 2004 and 2006 he is documented as saying he knew nothing about the night Carrick disappeared. In 2007, Lamb told a Grand Jury he knew nothing about Carrick’s disappearance. In 2010, facing unrelated drug charges, he received his immunity deal, and under oath, gave the story that resulted in Casciaro’s conviction.

Additionally, Masur said, Lamb could lose his immunity and be indicted for murder.

“This sort of thing happens (frequently) and the judge might very well believe (Lamb) is now lying because he has very little to lose by lying,” Masur said citing Lamb’s latest case for which he is facing a decades-long prison sentence.  “The judge could think he is lying (now) trying to do (Casciaro) a favor.”

Combs rebuked Lamb’s accusations saying they are “illogical.” He vehemently denies ever being alone with Lamb. He equally discounts the assertion he ever coached him in anyway. “That is not plausible.” Combs said he has a sworn affidavit from Lamb’s former lawyer supporting his truthfulness.

In August, Lamb calling Combs a “bully” rejected a plea deal in his current case.

Lamb’s attorney, De Luca said Lamb is now telling the truth.

“He’s got nothing to gain. … He’s got everything to lose, everything, he’s (facing) a murder indictment,” De Luca said.

De Luca said Lamb never believed that his testimony would convict Casciaro and now feels responsible for him being in prison and wants to help get him freed. De Luca said Lamb has told him that on the night Carrick disappeared he was “at a party all night” and that, Casciaro never called him and that he never went back to the store. However, during both trials Lamb’s sworn testimony was corroborated by witnesses. One man said that after a night of drinking in 2006, he asked Casciaro what happened to Carrick. The man testified at both trials that Casciaro told him the very story that Lamb told on the stand in both trials. Another man said he argued with Casciaro in a bar one night and Casciaro told him he’d better watch it because he “makes people disappear.”

Kathleen Zellner, Casciaro’s appellate attorney, discounts these witnesses’ testimony alleging they had deals with prosecutors to tell their stories. Zellner also claims Casciaro’s attorneys were not given all the evidence or names of witnesses in the case.

Calling the allegations “ridiculous” Combs said Casciaro’s defense attorneys had knowledge of all evidence and witnesses since 2007 when he was charged with perjury in connection with Carrick’s disappearance. Casciaro was acquitted of those charges.

Zellner theorizes that another employee, Rob Render, attacked Carrick with a box cutter, shoved his body into a garbage can and rolled the can out back of the store. She said someone later would have come to pick up the garbage can and dispose of the boy’s body.

But Combs, who said Render is being used by the Casciaros as a “scapegoat” counters Zellner’s theory as “idiotic, to say a 17-year-old kid without a car could dispose of a body.”

An attorney who represented Render in 2008 when he was charged with concealment of a homicide in Carrick’s disappearance– charges that later were dropped — said Zellner’s accusations are “unconscionable.”

“He was a junky, he was a stoner … he had a difficult childhood,” said George Kililis. “Otherwise he was a very gentle kid, he was kind … there was not a bad bone in his body. This is the kind of kid who would never hurt anyone.”

Kililis completely discounts Zellner’s theory and said he will always defend Render’s innocence. He said her theory is implausible pointing out that there is no way Render, a small framed boy at the time, could have secretly disposed of Carrick’s body and cleaned up all the blood that would have spilled from Carrick had he been sliced with a knife.

He said the shadow of Carrick’s death followed Render throughout his life and likely led to his heroin overdose in 2012.

“He told me privately part of the reason he turned to heroin was because he could never get away from this as much as he tired,” Kililis said. “Everybody thought he knew something about this, they tortured this kid. … I want them to leave my guy alone in his grave … I want them to leave him alone.”

Zellner and Combs recently entered an “agreed order” to have clothing items tested for DNA that had been retrieved from Render’s garbage can by a surveillance team six days after Carrick went missing.

“I have nothing to hide so I will not oppose testing,” Combs said.

Zellner had hoped to have a pair of “soiled” underwear also tested for DNA. She believed that the underwear would link authorities to whoever murdered Carrick. Authorities said the underwear were found above a ceiling tile in the bathroom of the grocery store.

However, the underwear won’t be tested because they no longer exist, authorities have said.

“We are outraged that the (Johnsburg Police Department) threw out the most crucial piece of evidence in this case so far, the bloody underwear,” Casciaro’s sister Julia Casciaro-Mulle wrote in a letter. “We strongly believe that the DNA testing of this underwear could clear Mario. We want to know what happened to it.”

Combs said this should have come as no surprise to the Casciaros.

“The Casciaro family has known that underwear has been gone for seven years because their attorney was provided that information in discovery in 2007 when (Cassciaro) was charged with perjury,” Comb said.

Zellner said she and Combs have met and discussed the case.

“The more cooperation there is the more likely we are to get to the truth of what happened,” Zellner said.

At a later date Zellner said she will file an amended petition for post conviction relief in McHenry County based, in part on Lamb’s new story. She also is appealing Casciaro’s conviction in the Second District Appellate Court based. This appeal is, in part, based on forensic evidence from the 2013 trial. She claims, among other allegations, that the blood patterns found do not match what experts say would have happened had Carrick been punched. Zellner believes the murder did not happen in the cooler as authorities have maintained for more than a decade, but that it happened in the hallway leading to a back exit door.

Rob Render Senior testified at trial that his son came home that night right after work and never went back out. A fellow co-worker who drove Render home that night said he did not notice blood or cuts on Render.  Though defense attorneys pointed to him throughout the first trial, Render Jr. had never been called to testify. He died of a heroin overdose before the second trial.

Zellner says Casciaro was accounted for throughout the evening, while Render was missing for two hours, and Render’s blood was found inside the cooler.

Combs said there were a couple “very, very” tiny drops of Render’s blood found and that there is no way of knowing how old that blood was. Combs also said that no one ever claimed to have seen Render bleeding that night. In fact, Combs said, Casciaro under sworn testimony before a Grand Jury, said he never saw any blood or cuts on Render that night.

Masur described what Combs did in this case, as “extraordinary and completely within legal bounds.”

“It is rare for a crime like intimidation to be used as the underlying felony,” he said.
The charge is a way to “rope in people who were peripheral pieces to this murder.”
He said likely Combs believed Casciaro “was a really bad guy.”

After Lamb recanted his story the Carrick family was contacted. A sibling said the family has no comment. Bill Carrick, Brian’s father, still lives in the family home across the road from the grocery store where his son was last seen alive.

Lamb’s next court date is Dec. 12. Casciaro’s attorneys are expected back in the McHenry Courtroom in January.

To learn more on the case visit link (below) to ABC 2020 feature “Mystery on Johnsburg Road.”;_ylt=AwrBT8dGAWxUbb0AcwJXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTB0bjAxNjdrBHNlYwNzYwRjb2xvA2JmMQR2dGlkA1ZJUDIyN18x?p=abc+mystery+on+johnsburg+road


Clara’s Heart

Hi friends and family,

I was touched by the stories of Mrs. Clara Kirk and her efforts to help abused and homeless women and children in the Englewood community. She needs more help then I could ever give, but I figure if God put it on my heart to write about her then maybe I can reach those who can help her further!

Please visit Bittersweet.

Until Next time…..

Review of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Hi friends and family,

I was asked to review a production of Sweeney Todd. This was something new for me and I’d appreciate if you all would click over to Bittersweet on ChicagoNow and read it over. Let me know what you think! Link below.

Until next time……..

Learning lessons, breaking free from our prisons

Hi friends, family and followers:

This morning I wrote over at ChicagoNow about lessons to be learned from our “prisons.”

In life we will all find ourselves in prisons of all kinds -physical, emotional, mental, relational.

I believe there are lessons to be learned and reasons we are all dealing with all that we deal with.

I heard a message this weekend that helps make a little sense of it all.

Please click on link below and let me know you visited. I value your comments and feedback.

Family’s reaction to conviction in decade-old cold-case with no body

Dear family, friends and followers:

I wrote a story in the Chicago Tribune today about reactions of the families in the aftermath of Mario Casciaro’s conviction in the murder and disappearance of Brian Carrick.

Brian, a 17-year-old boy, described as small, skinny, sweet and funny,  was last seen on Dec. 20, 2002 running up the stairs to his bedroom in his family’s large, white farmhouse where he was raised with his large, Irish Catholic family – with 13 siblings.

He was last seen by co-workers in the grocery store where he worked as a stock boy, located right across the street from his home, at the back of a produce cooler arguing with known felon Shane Lamb, described as “the muscle” – “the intimidator” of a small rural town drug ring.

Again I say there are no winners. This is a sad story all around about youth and poor choices. I have followed this case for many years. I have come to know the families on both sides of this case and they are very nice people who love their sons and brothers.

I welcome your comments and questions. It is a confusing case to understand. But prosecutors say they did what they had to in order to hold someone accountable for the loss the Carricks have suffered. Prosecutors say they will continue to investigate where the 17-year-old stock boy’s body is.

For more background search my blog. There are several stories posted from the trial that ended Tuesday. Until next time, love each other.,0,3812487.story

Mario Casciaro guilty in 10-year-old cold case

I have followed this story for years. I covered both trials. I have met and come to like the family members of both the defendant and the victim, the young boy whose body has never been found. There are no winners here. There is no joy.

One young man, who could have had a wonderful, happy, successful future is facing 20 to 60 years in prison, and another will never come home. His family will never really know what happened to him – or his body. Read link  to Chicago Tribune story below.

Share, like, comment, let me know you stopped by. And until next time, PLEASE love each other….Too much sadness in the world.,0,4742818.story

Brian Carrick cold-case murder and disappearance: both sides rest. Who is telling the truth? Case goes to jury today.


Dear friends, family and followers: here is how I spent my Spring Break. I’ve been hold up in a McHenry County courtroom. But I believe in all things there is a lesson to be learned.

My take away? Always tell the truth, know who your friends are and who your friends’ friends are and who your kids’ friends are. Be mindful of your words and actions. Humans are complicated.

Please click or paste link below. THERE IS A SECOND LINK ADDED

Soon I’ll update this blog post with an end of the day recap from today/Monday in court. Remember there has never been a body found. This is the tragedy in this twisted, lie-ridden tale of sin and redemption. Tomorrow each lawyer will give their final closing arguments to jurors. Then the jurors will deliberate. Mario Casciaro’s fate will finally be determined – after more than 10 years since Brian’s disappearance, one perjury trial that ended in an acquittal, one murder trial that ended in a mistrial.  Mario, 29, faces 20 to 60 years in prison.

The Carricks will never know what really happened to Brian. One of 14 children in this large, Irish Catholic family. Very sweet, kind people. They will forever have a hole in their hearts, an empty chair at their Christmas table. They will also always have an empty chair where mom, Terry, would sit. Brian’s mom died months before seeing an arrest in her son’s murder.

I welcome your input. Like, share and comment. Until next time, love each other…..,0,1136188.story

UPDATE: COULD BE A VERDICT TODAY (link below),0,7892950.story

Drug dealer says defendant tells him “I make people disappear.”

Hi friends, family and followers:

Another day in the Mario Casciaro first-degree murder trial.

At the end of the day the whole situation is just so sad. Everyone involved in this tale were just teenagers when all of this calamity was put into motion.

If anything good comes of this sad sordid tale, let it be  a reminder that we really need to pay attention to who our kids are hanging out with.

We need to know at all times what they are doing.

Also a reminder that the teen years, the years of experimentation, can result in long-lasting problems. Our kids need to know that decisions they are making now, if not good choices, can follow them around for the rest of their lives.

(link below),0,5660141.story

I welcome any and all comments.

Until next time…