2010: David and Jaimie Cates
MONT VERNON -- A father and daughter, whose courage and indomitable spirits served to comfort the rest of New Hampshire during their own grueling ordeal, are the New Hampshire Union Leader's 2010 Citizens of the Year.
The ordeal of David J. Cates and his daughter, Jaimie, actually began in October of 2009 with the brutal attack on the then 11-year-old girl and her mother, Kimberly, in their Mont Vernon home. It continued in 2010 with the arrest of several young men in connection with the crime and, in November, with the nine-day murder trial of the first defendant, Steven Spader.
As Granite Staters relived and in some cases heard for the first time new details of the horrific crimes, Mr. Cates sat stoically in the Nashua courtroom day after day. His daughter did not attend the trial, but word of her continuing recovery -- she is earning straight-A grades in school -- also buoyed others.
"I was very impressed with him," said Mark Langlois of Manchester, a member of the trial jury. "He held his composure throughout the trial. ... He was the model of strength."
The Citizen of the Year award is presented annually to the individual or group who, in the newspaper's view, has had the biggest influence or effect on New Hampshire. Created in 2004, it went first, collectively, to New Hampshire men and women serving in the armed forces. Subsequent awards have gone to Gov. John Lynch, New Hampshire's police, Secretary of State William Gardner, former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and, last year, U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg.
Confronted with despicable acts of senseless violence, and mourning the loss of the one person they love the most, David and Jaimie Cates have shown that in the midst of suffering, one can embrace life with courage, strength and compassion.
"Our strength comes from Kim," David Cates said in a brief written statement to the New Hampshire Union Leader. "She is the guiding light that sees us through every day."
"Incredible little girl"
The attack on the mother and daughter occurred early in the morning. Immediately afterward, though suffering from life-threatening injuries, Jaimie made her way to the kitchen and called 9-1-1.
What stands out in Mont Vernon Police Chief Kyle Aspinwall's memory of that morning was Jaimie's selflessness. "Though she was injured so badly, what she wanted most from us was to help her mom," Aspinwall said.
Milford Police Sgt. Kevin Furlong, who was the first officer to arrive on the scene, is still awed by the incredible little girl he encountered there.
"The way that she kept her composure during such a traumatic event is nothing short of amazing," he said. "This young girl showed bravery in the worst of times and dealt with a situation that would cause most adults to just give up."
But giving up does not appear to be something Jaimie Cates is familiar with.
After the conviction of Spader, the first of the four men implicated in the home invasion to stand trial, David addressed the court and talked about his child's resilience in the face of such seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
"After the 12-hour surgery last year, Jaimie was placed in the intensive care unit, and during one of her brief periods of being awake those first couple of days, she told me what happened to her mom, and we had a good long cry together," David said. "She then told me she was disappointed about missing her NECAP (standardized) testing. This was all while having her mouth wired shut. This is a testament to what an incredibly strong young girl she is."
Excelling at school
Returning to school just weeks after losing her mother, who was also her best friend, Jaimie has achieved perfect grades and has joined her teammates to play field hockey and lacrosse, seemingly oblivious to the injuries she will carry for a lifetime.
"While not being as fast on her feet as she once was, Kim's spirit, tenacity and love for life runs strong in Jaimie's veins," David said.
Speaking to the Union Leader at David's request, Mont Vernon Village School guidance counselor Barbara Belak said Jaimie returned to a school full of people who were intensely happy to have her back. "The children wanted to help her, so we told them the best thing they could do for Jaimie was to be her friend and to let her find her new normal," Belak said.
Jaimie settled into her work and her vibrant social life far more easily than many people might have expected from a young person who had experienced such trauma.
"We all know what an uplifted, focused child she is," said Belak, "but clearly she has been supported and raised well all her life."
Belak said Jaimie was willing to trust the adults in her life, both at home and at school, to help her move forward. That trust, she said, is a testament to David's careful efforts to ensure that Jaimie is surrounded by loving, supportive people.
But Belak said any impression that Jaimie's strength, courage and determination were somehow brought out by the crime and its aftermath is mistaken.
"Jaimie was like that beforehand," Belak said. "She was an in-charge, engaged, spirited kid. Just like her mom." For Sharon Soucy, a close family friend who has been a constant source of support for Jaimie and David, Jaimie is the very essence of Kim, whose loss Soucy mourns every day.
"Although my heart has been shattered in sadness, it brightens my day to see Jaimie," said Soucy.
Soucy said that everyone who ever met Kim shares memories of the bright, beautiful, fun woman who dedicated herself passionately to Jaimie and David, her friends and family, and the patients she cared for as a nurse.
"Jaimie has that same great charisma of her mom, and those same people talk of Jaimie with the pride, honor and love as her mom," said Soucy. "Jaimie's drive to remain independent, outgoing and fun-loving are as dynamic as Kim's spirit."
Just as Jaimie is a testament to the resilience and grace of children, David has proved that in the face of unfathomable adversity, a person's best self can shine through.
"I don't know that I would have been able to carry myself with the strength and dignity that Dave has," said a friend and co-worker who asked not to be identified. "Having a total breakdown would have been well within the acceptable spectrum of reactions to that situation, but he has put Jaimie's well-being well above and beyond anything else."
It has been important for David to be present as the fate of the accused is determined by the legal system. Although he only took the stand once during Spader's trial, David was there throughout.
"He was there to bear witness for Kim," said friend John Quinlan. "He was not there to seek revenge, but to see to it that the best possible justice available could be served."
Although David could have given in to anger, especially as he sat in such close proximity to the accused, he chose instead a path of calm and restraint, Quinlan said.
"A natural reaction for any of us would have been to lash out," said Quinlan, "but Dave has the ability to rise above that. He knew anger wouldn't serve him well, wouldn't serve his daughter well, and wouldn't serve the memory of his wife well." "
Few individuals got to know Mr. Cates and his family over the course of the trial better than did New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney. Delaney issued a statement Thursday.
"We have the utmost respect for David Cates, his daughter and his family," said Delaney. "We have to limit our comments in this instance, though, due to the pending court cases."
Langlois, the juror, said: "I only wish I had the chance to meet him. After the verdict was reached, we (the jury) exited the scene as quickly as we could to begin to put it behind us, and I never met him or spoke with him or shook his hand after it was over. He certainly would be my Citizen of the Year ."
Patricia Savo, a friend of the Cates family, said, "David is a very thoughtful person, and he thinks about every word before he speaks it."
But when it comes to talking about Kim Cates, Savo said, David speaks freely about a woman who was not only passionate about nursing and about being a mother, but also enthusiastic about little things such as sledding, splashing around at water parks and competing in plastic-duck races.
The town of Mont Vernon has been deeply affected by the crimes against the Cates, but residents view David and Jaimie as a constant source of inspiration. "When I see Dave and Jaimie, I see the love and passion that Kim inspired in them," said Susan Rieth. "She would not want them to lie down and give up. She would want them to live."
Pietro Savo, Patricia's husband, said the crimes against the family were crimes against every resident of Mont Vernon, and so the community is united with David and Jaimie in memory of Kim.
"We are in this together. This happened to all of us," Savo said. "We are a community together forever."