On the night of January 31 of this year, a Bethel man named Michael "Big Mike" Chris was found dead outside his home. At the time, police called it an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, but his family believes that this was not a suicide or an accident.
The night of Mike’s death, Jackie Chris, his wife, was lying in bed with her husband when he got a phone call, which he didn’t answer.
“I felt him scooting up off the bed. Then he said, “I’m gonna go smoke a cigarette. Then he kissed me on my cheek and he said ‘I love you'," Jackie said.
Those were the last words that Mike ever spoke to his wife.
Jackie says she went in her young son’s room, as she often did when Mike left. Sometimes he would go to smoke a cigarette and wouldn't come back for hours, which caused tension in the household. She was almost asleep and just beginning to dream. That’s when she heard the shot.
“I heard a gunshot. I got up really fast, and then I ran downstairs and saw the porch light on. I opened the door and I said ‘Mike!'” Jackie said.
Jackie saw that the door of Mike's truck was ajar, and she went to it. “I ran towards the door. I didn’t see him in the truck, but as I walked to the door I found him on the ground.”
Mike was dead.
Later, Jackie would see the police press release that suggested Mike committed suicide. She says no way.
“He wouldn’t leave us like that. He always told us that he cared for us, that he always thinks about his kids, me, and his mom," Jackie said as she holds her stomach. She is seven months pregnant with Mike's daughter.
Police say that their investigation of Mike’s death is "ongoing."
He had a good job driving a truck for the city, but following a back injury he developed a heroin addiction - an addiction that his mother, Julie Carter, says had gotten him into trouble by the end of January.
"Michael owed a lot of money," Carter said.
Carter walks through the blowing snow down the street where her son and his family used to live. Jackie moved out because she says she doesn't feel safe in the old house, not that she really feels safe in the new house either.
Mike's young son passes his grandmother on the street as more snow falls. She hugs him and he runs off. He’s gotten out of school early today because of bad weather.
Carter walks into the old house. The heat is still on, but most of furniture is gone. She also believes that Mike didn’t kill himself. In the old bedroom, she brings out her cell phone with pictures of Mike at the funeral. The pictures show bruises that both Carter and her daughter-in-law say Mike didn’t have before he went outside that night.
Carter visits her son’s grave and talks with him.
“Hi Michael, this is mommy. Michael, I miss you and I just walk around. I was telling him, ‘we’ll try and get justice for you Michael'," Carter said.
Last year, about this time, Carter says her son tried to stop using heroin.
Mike was having a rough time this past year, but she says something had changed in him recently. Changed for the worse.
“The last month or so he had that look on his face that he was worried. I look at him and it’s just like there was something troubling him," Carter said.
Carter now thinks it had something to do with the drugs, but doesn’t know exactly what.
The family is still waiting for the report from the Medical Examiner on the cause of Michael's death. They expect it to show that Michael Chris was murdered.