After enduring hell on earth, little Tabitha Gee now thrives amid at least three blessings. The 4-year-old is out of the hospital and will recover from her injuries, the only survivor of a quintuple murder that wiped out most of her family in September.
After enduring hell on earth, little Tabitha Gee now thrives amid at least three blessings.
The 4-year-old is out of the hospital and will recover from her injuries, the only survivor of a quintuple murder that wiped out most of her family in September.
Fortunately, if such a thing can be fortunate, head injuries prevent her young mind from recalling the terrible ordeal, a brutal bloodbath that will forever stain the consciousness of her hometown of Beason and the rest of central Illinois.
She has melted the hearts of a fraternity of brethren who often must strike a stoic, steely professional pose: the Illinois State Police. Headquartered in Germantown Hills, District 8 troopers not only protected her in the hospital but gladly stepped in as playmates as she got better.
"We painted her toenails, read books to her, played games," says Sgt. Tony Halsey. "We pretty much adopted her as one of our own."
Now, local troopers are planning a birthday bash for the lass. And, if you want, you also can help foster joy in a life almost wiped out in the most heinous area slaying in recent times.
Rick Gee, 46, his wife, Ruth Gee, 39, and children Justina Constant, 16, Dillen Constant, 14, and Austin Gee, 11, were found dead in their home Sept. 21. Beason, population 200, is an unincorporated farming community near Lincoln, about 60 miles southeast of Peoria.
After an eight-day manhunt that left area residents edgy and nervous, police arrested Christopher Harris, 30, of Armington, the ex-husband of another Gee daughter, Nicole Gee. Days later, police also arrested his brother, Jason Harris, 22, also of Armington. The brothers allegedly entered the home and tried to attack Justina, then beat all six occupants in the head with a tire iron.
The sole survivor was Tabitha, then 3 years old, who was admitted in critical condition to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. Upon arriving, Tabitha was unconscious. From the attack, her head had ballooned, prompting doctors to temporarily remove a chunk of her skull to relieve pressure. Plus, she had fractured an arm, likely by raising it to ward off blows, Halsey says.
But after a few days, Tabitha regained consciousness. After repeated surgeries to address her head wounds, doctors made her skull whole. Her arm has healed, and she is expected to make a full recovery.
But she does not recall the night her family was slain. She might never regain that memory, Halsey says.
Then again, she has had other things on her mind. Like, fun - thanks to state troopers.
From the outset of her hospital stay, a protective detail was assigned to her hospital room - two at a time, 24-7. According to Halsey, troopers worried, "Would the person (who killed her family) come back and try to hurt her?"
The troopers encountered no trouble, but might have averted tragedy nonetheless. Before his arrest, Christopher Harris visited the girl at least once, Halsey says.
"Thank goodness we had two guys there," Halsey says. " ... If we hadn't been there, you never know if she'd still be here."
Tabitha apparently never asked for her parents or other family members, Halsey says. Thus, she has not been told of the massacre.
"Who knows what a 3-year-old remembers?" Halsey says.
Troopers step in
With her immediate family dead and extended kin rarely visiting, Tabitha turned to the troopers for recreation. She never felt apprehensive with the officers, who were dressed in plainclothes and otherwise inconspicuous as anything but tall playmates. The security detail was rotated among just 10 troopers, to ensure Tabitha's familiarity with them.
Like many active, feisty young girls, Tabitha usually called the shots about what games to play or books to read. She ran the troopers ragged.
"When you're 3, you're always on the go," Halsey says. "For some of the troopers, it was difficult, because they don't have kids and didn't know what to do."
But they learned fast - from Tabitha, as well as older colleagues with children of their own.
"They'd bring in toys and games from home," Halsey says.
In the first week of November, Tabitha was released from the hospital. Now under the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Tabitha is staying in the Chicago area with a licensed foster couple, one with no connection to the Gees. The girl also is seeing a counselor, who will look for emotional trauma or any other signs of her recalling the killings.
But her departure from Peoria doesn't mean she has left the minds or hearts of local troopers. Tabitha turned 4 this month, and on Monday troopers will host a birthday party for her at District 8 headquarters. During the party, she will be named an honorary trooper, an extremely rare designation. Further, she will get a badge and a miniature uniform, with her photo taken from the front seat of a police cruiser.
Though the party is closed to the public, you still can brighten the occasion. Though Halsey didn't ask for public outreach, I suggested well-wishers could send her a card or present. Halsey liked that idea. However, if you send along any greetings, please do not mention anything about her family or the tragedy. Birthday wishes alone are just fine.
In the future, troopers plan to launch a project for Tabitha, perhaps building an outdoor playhouse at her home. They intend to keep a tie to her.
"That's a little girl we'll remember the rest of our lives," Halsey says.
Peoria Journal Star columnist Phil Luciano can be reached at (309) 686-3155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: On Monday, Illinois State Police District 8 will host a birthday party for Tabitha Gee, the lone survivor of the Beason slayings. If you care to send her a birthday card or gift, the address is: Illinois State Police, c/o Sgt. Tony Halsey, 1265 Lourdes Road, Metamora, IL 61548.
Likes: Halsey says Tabitha enjoys "Dora the Explorer" and "Sesame Street." Also, she likes the same playthings as any 4-year-old. Please make no mention of her family or their murders. Birthday wishes alone are fine.
Info: If you wish to reach Halsey about Tabitha, his e-mail is Tony_Halsey@isp.state.il.us.