It Has Been One Year Since Chris Burns Went on the Run from the FBI. Knowing So Much More Now, This is What I Want to Say to Him

I’ve hit it. The one-year anniversary of the last day I ever heard from you. I got a text around 9:30 pm telling me you loved me and asking me to pray for you tomorrow which was strange because you were open about not believing in God or faith anymore. But I said I would and went to bed.

Earlier that day, I had signed paperwork in a UPS store before you headed to your parent’s house in Durham; I thought it was the beginning of a separation document. I remember standing in the corner next to a speaker playing 90’s hits while you had a discussion up at the counter. I had a headache, and all I wanted to do was go home and be in bed. My Lyme’s Disease was flaring up that day, and I felt sick; but you were telling me we had to sign these documents today. I had asked if we could wait until you got back from your parents, but you were insistent. It didn’t make sense to me because I thought it was just the initial paperwork for a separation. I didn’t even understand a separation because you had been going to counseling with me regularly, and in our last session, the counselor said it was the best session to date. 

Things were hard, but we were pulling together–you seemed to be coming back down to reality. I guess I just didn’t realize the reality you were embracing. 

I signed on the last page without reading through the whole thing–I didn’t see any of this as necessary and projected that I would be able to change any of it once you were in a different state of mind. In the last few weeks, you had plenty of Jekyll and Hyde moments, and I figured I just needed to wait it out. You were rushed and sweating profusely, but picked up Arabella and put her in her car seat for me to drive her home. We had switched cars because there was a storm coming up the entire East Coast, and I knew you would be driving through it to get to your parents. So, I made you take my Subaru. It was safer than your Yukon.

I wish I could remember if you kissed her goodbye. If you gave her a hug a little too long or looked at her with regret. But, all I remember is that it seemed routine. You put in her the car seat like you would any other day. How did you do that? How did you not break down knowing it was the last time you would touch her soft skin and dark curly hair? How did you not want to breathe in her smell one last time? How did you not offer her any comfort–knowing what you were about to do to her? Was it in your mind that you wanted to tell her, “Daddy’s going to be gone for a while, but he will always love you?”

I want so badly to believe that you were thinking that–that you would have said that. But, after this past year, sitting with her screaming at night, holding her as she recovers from nightmares, keeping her home from school because of recurring headaches and stomachaches, and questions about why you lied to her and which adults she can trust…I can’t believe that you had any interest in considering her soul in that moment. You were mechanical. You put her in her car seat just like you would any other day and closed the door.

I don’t remember if you hugged me, or even said goodbye. You were in a hurry because you still needed to drop off Philip’s letter jacket at school–it was on your way out of town. I don’t think it matters to me now. Honestly, I’m not sure that it mattered to me then–I was emotionally and physically exhausted and felt like I had been walking through fog for months–now I think maybe it was more like years.

I drove your car home, and you drove my car to another reality–one we still cannot see. 

The boys tell me that you came into the band room in a hurry and handed Philip his letter jacket. Gavin asked you if you could help him get a drum pad from another one of the music rooms, but you said you didn’t have time. I guess that’s it right? You were done putting time and energy into four people who had given you the pre-eminent place of time and energy in their own lives. You were the center of our family. Your boys wanted to be you when they grew up. Your wife wanted to grow old with you and welcome grandchildren together. But that was never enough. Helping your middle son get a drum pad was asking too much. 

The boys said they initiated hugging you as you were heading out, but you felt stiff. I wish you had some level of empathy, some level of concern for their feelings and emotions as you were standing there getting ready to murder their emotions. You were ruthless and hollow in your abandonment. You overplayed your role. Even a sincere hug would have left them with one last experience of feeling worthwhile in your world. But, you were rigid. And you ran out of their lives to drive to a parking garage in Dunwoody.

How long did you sit there? Did you treat yourself to one last meal? How many people did you text? Did you have more paperwork you needed to close up?

Those hours only belong to you now. I suspect you were alone for some part of the time, but then again, what do I know about your life?

I know that when I found the car the next day, you left life insurance information and cashier’s check stubs. I know that you left your navy blue baseball cap in the trunk next to where your luggage had been. I know that when I saw my car parked in that garage, I held my breath with the deepest terror I have ever felt. I fell in love with you at nineteen. Now, I was alone in a dark garage preparing myself to find that love bloody and dead…I assumed suicide. Little did I know that you never had intentions of hurting yourself–only the people who loved you. Do you remember in marriage counseling, I asked you once when we were separated three years earlier, “Why do you always have to burn the fields in your path?” You were always a lover of history, and I knew you would understand my reference to Sherman.

You are destruction. You are abandonment. You are heartless. You terrorized our countryside.

After you left the boys’ school, and at some point went to the parking garage, we all got texts from you between 9:30-9:35pm. Your brother, your Dad and Mom, me, Philip, and Arabella’s birthmother saying that you were thinking of us and loved us. None of us pieced it together at the time when we received these messages that they were all within those five minutes. None of us realized you forgot Gavin. None of us realized you also texted your girlfriend. None of us even knew you had a girlfriend, but there again, who really knew you? It seems like a few close friends knew about her. But maybe not about some of the others you were involved with.

Did you even know yourself? Do you even know yourself? Maybe there isn’t anyone really to know–maybe there is just a shell, someone who can’t feel his childrens’ hearts breaking as he squeezes the blood out of them with his bare hands. You murdered their innocence. What kind of adult has the ability to wound their own innocent children with such disregard? Monsters.

But none of us knew that a year ago tonight. We went to sleep planning on seeing you tomorrow and going to the football game to celebrate the boys’ marching band performance at halftime–it was Philip’s first year. Arabella loved wearing her mini-cheerleader outfit, and we each had a circle pin of the boys’ faces in their marching band uniforms for our jackets; it was our way to show the world that these beautiful boys were two of the three undeserved gifts in our life. I was so proud of both of them for all they were accomplishing in school and in life. 

I never made it to that game. I was sitting on our screened-in porch talking with another police officer giving a missing person’s report as Gavin played the tenor drums and Philip was on keys at halftime. The police officer told me a detective would look into it on Monday–I pleaded with her to please have someone do something sooner, but it seemed like both officers from the day assumed you would show up over the weekend. I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I even had my Dad drive me to the Atlanta airport where I gave your passport information to Homeland Security. I was terrified as I told my story to the body-cam on his bulletproof vest, but I knew something was terribly wrong.

When I started getting worried about you that Friday morning, I called your number over and over and over and over, and it went straight to voicemail every time. I texted; I begged you to answer. I was scared to call your parents and interrupt your time with them—you always got angry when I interrupted your meetings. But by lunchtime, I called your parents who sounded taken off guard when I asked to speak with you. They had never heard of a plan for you to come visit. They hadn’t talked with you in weeks.

Right after speaking with them,  I would call 911 and fall to the cement driveway, scratching my elbows and knees, screaming unintelligible noises. I groveled before you, wherever you were, pleading with my life to not do this to our children–not leave me to figure this out alone.

But here we are, one year later. You have never answered. You didn’t look back. And as we moved out of the house, we decided to stop looking back too. We grieve…but not for you. We don’t know you. We grieve our collective trauma. We grieve for the friends you betrayed. We grieve for the community you abandoned and stole from. We grieve that we were ever a part of your life. Why did we ever get entangled with Chris Burns? You were so charming, seemingly humble, and deeply caring. This one act, shows how false all of that was. You once said your greatest fear was that people thought you were a coward; you at least knew that part of yourself. It is the truth.

And a year later, we are just beginning to uncover the truth.

2 thoughts on “It Has Been One Year Since Chris Burns Went on the Run from the FBI. Knowing So Much More Now, This is What I Want to Say to Him”

  1. Taylor’s Father

    I am reading these words of yours, Meredith, knowing that the home to which you refer is just at the other end of the lake. I am able to picture the scenes that you describe, knowing the faces you mention, but unable to connect what I knew about Chris with what we know now. It strikes me as ironic that he so often was present in my home, and was part of my family’s life, now to be absent entirely. And, further, that the last place that he made his home was the place that I found thirty years ago for my home, here in Berkeley Lake.

    I was thinking about Chris tonight, maybe aware that it was at this time of year, three years ago, we had to find Michael after he drowned himself on this lake. And then, just a few days later, I was sarcastically informed that I had someone else to find.

    I admit I feel angry at Chris. I will say that cowardice was something I always saw in him. Chris deserted Taylor in his greatest hour of need, ashamed of being associated with him. But Taylor is brave, and still in the land of the living, very much in the land of true life. My anger becomes a weak compassion when I think he may be cowering in some third world excuse for a country. Or worse, joined back into the elements, having died a lonely and tragic death.

    Yes, Chris may have known the scorched earth policies of Sherman. Ironic to mention that. And like the forgotten soldiers, stumbled upon, curled up under the tangles of a Georgia thicket, their scattered bones and bleached tuffs of hair bore a silent witness to a solitary end. In those last, hollow moments of despair, was God ever brought to mind?

    1. Wow–thank you so much for your vulnerability. You have known Chris since he was a child, and I am thankful for the full spectrum of emotion you shared. Yes, we are angry, and yes, there is a weak compassion for someone so desperate and alone in this world. I think that our faith, hopefully, fills us with that sense of compassion and sadness for those like Chris. I have come to learn, that it does not mean that there is a place in my lifetime to invite him back into my world, but from one fallible human being to another, I can only hope that there is some mercy for such evil behavior…but these are the choices he made–there will always be consequences for our choices. I am very thankful that Taylor has the resilience to live in the land of true life. What a gift! Thank you for your poetic words–it is a sensitive time for our family as we reach anniversaries (it will be 3 years on the 24th), and to even have people remember is such a kindness to our grief and trauma. Thank you for ALL that you have been in our lives throughout the years–even Chris’ as a boy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *