I want to take an opportunity to kind of re-introduce myself. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know some of what I’m going to share here. If you’re a family member or friend, lots of this may not be news to you. But this past week has been fairly pivotal. Eh, that’s probably not the right word. But – suffice it to say that the events of this week have been deeply emotional and impactful.
In the blogging world – we try to stay a little anonymous. There are privacy issues to be considered – I’m all for that. For me, my blogging really started with my weight loss surgery experience, and I didn’t know any it would have been better to use a pseudonym! So I’ve been just plain old me online pretty much ever since.
Have you ever been through seasons of your life where a significant part of your life MUST go unexpressed? For big reasons? I – well we – have been through a season just as that. The last five years have carried a huge burden. A burden that my heart and soul longed to express – somehow – but only if and when it might be just and right and respectful.
The events of this week leave me with the sense that I need to say who I am, and give me the permission to refer to people in my life freely, and to express the thoughts, emotions, and events that have marked these five years. So here goes…
My name is Dina Christine Courtney McBride. I was born to two of the most loving, amazing parents you could ever want to meet. There was not a single day of my life where I doubted the fact that they loved me and cherished the fact that they were my parents. My Dad was a truck driver. My Mom was a telephone operator. They lived in an adorable little house in North Hollywood, California.
I have very early memories of sitting on the porch of our house in the sunshine – playing with toys, and hearing my Mom hum a little song – something like “Jesus Loves Me” or the like. My early memories of my Mom are filled with joy, love, laughter, adventure. My early memories of my Dad are almost always centered on his deep blue eyes – I always felt that I had his undivided attention – and I remember being held in his arms and feeling SAFE and LOVED and CHERISHED.
I’ll never forget the day that someone told me – I was just shy of 2 and a half years old – that I would soon have a baby brother or sister. Sure enough, not too many weeks later my baby brother Joel came home. Two years later, my sister Denise was born – shortly after we’d moved to Oregon. And two years after that, my youngest brother Chris.
I have so many memories of childhood – my parents didn’t have much, but they were so creative with what they did have! Mom would scrimp to make sure we had what we needed. Dad would often go without to make sure Mom had something to scrimp with!
There are memories with lots of family and friends. My parents loved people. People loved them! There were lots of kids in the neighborhood we grew up in, and it seemed that there were always ten or so extra kids hanging out in the house or the back yard. My Dad actually built a “fort” for us – a four sided, roofed structure with two stories, a proper door, windows, and very rudimentary electricity! We climbed plum trees, the big old cottonwood that was on the side of the house, and played neighborhood hide and seek. Mom would help us set up Kool-Aid or Lemonade stands to sell by the cup at the curb. We participated in the parade in Beaverton. We’d take spur-of-the-moment day trips to the beach to play in the freezing cold Oregon surf, and then lay out in the sun on the sand to dry off.
Our family car, that we’d named Charlie, transported scores of kids to Pioneer Girls Clubs, Vacation Bible School, and Sunday school. The ladies at church held backyard Vacation Bible School weeks at different homes one summer – I remember clearly probably 45 or 50 kids packed in our back porch – just loving every minute!
All four of us went to the same Elementary School – which is now the Home Depot in our community! We went to the same Middle School, and the same High School. Somewhere in those years heartache seeped in. There were actions, events, words, behaviors, attitudes that brought deep hurt and impacted us as a family.
Some families experience a season involving a rebellious child. Some families experience a season involving a child that experiments with drugs and alcohol. Some families breathe a sigh of relief when a little life is lived and closure comes, and said child matures and recognizes the folly of the choices they’ve made and choose to leave those things behind in exchange for moving forward with their adult lives.
Suffice it all to say that there was a very long season where my brother Joel embraced drugs, began dabbling in Satanism, and was arrested for a variety of different offenses. To say that my parents were heartbroken would be the worst possible understatement. Every attempt was made to get help – we went through family counseling, individual counseling, programs were entered, accountability sought. Everything that a parent could think to do – they did.
It really didn’t seem as if Joel would ever do that “growing up” and acknowledge the folly of his prior choices and embrace moving forward as an adult. Then – to our amazement – he met a beautiful young lady, they chose to marry, and eventually started a family. Joel settled – quiet contentedly it seemed – into life as a husband and father.
As the years went by there were relapses into chemical dependency, more criminal activity, and choices that were heartbreaking to all in his immediate and extended family.
In April 2004 Joel and his wife and children arrived – unexpectedly – at our home, with a thought of staying for a month or more. We had had little interaction with these beautiful children of theirs, and were thrilled at the thought that we would have the opportunity to get to know them!
To say that those weeks were full of joys and heartaches would be quite accurate. There are too many details to go into at this point in time, but suffice it to say that it was obvious to us that Joel was chemically dependent. He obtained a job with a commercial cleaning company that required him to travel and be gone quite a bit, and for the most part we saw very little of him.
We loved those weeks getting to know and love those children better! It was a gift to us to have every single moment with them – and thrilled us to no end that they and their cousins connected so instantly and loved playing, laughing, and learning together. We planned outings as often as we could and delighted in every moment spent with them. We weren’t sure when we’d have the opportunity to be with them again, as the family’s plan was for them to relocate back to New Mexico, where they had lived previously.
In late May there was news of a young college co-ed – who was visiting family in a town south of us – having disappeared. It hit the news very quickly – and our hearts broke at the thought that something bad may have happened to this lovely young lady. It was heartening to see the response of her faith community, as well as the citizens of Corvallis as they rallied around her family and joined in the search. We determined to pray for the safe return of Brooke Wilberger and her family.
In early June 2004 I was at home with my Grammy (who was 92 years of age at that point in time). I’d been doing dishes, cleaning up the kitchen, and some laundry. Joel had been absent more often than not in the weeks prior, and on this late morning he walked through the door, a little bit agitated, and said, “You’ll never believe where I’ve been for the last three days!” I had heard a car door close and glanced out and saw the green minivan he’d been driving since he’d been employed with the cleaning company.
“Really? Where?” I responded.
“I was kidnapped. There were guys with knives, and guns. I had to hide – there was a blonde girl with me, she and I had to hide out in the bushes to get away from the guys. There was blood, too. It rained, it was cold. I haven’t eaten in days!” He finally sat down at the dining room table and I could see that he was perhaps coming down off of some drug or the other. His hands were shaky, he seemed keyed up but drowsy, too.
Several times over the course of about thirty minutes he asked if I had any money. He desperately needed money, he said. I didn’t. We’ve always just barely made it financially, and there’s pretty much NEVER any money for anything but the necessities! But my Grammy was in the house, and that made me concerned. She always had some cash on her – and Joel would know that. While Joel excused himself to go to the restroom, I quickly went into Grammy’s room, told her I was concerned about the situation with Joel, asked her to lock herself in her room and not answer the door unless it was me telling her to do so.
I also took that time to send a quick email to my husband and a prayer partner, asking them to pray for wisdom, discernment, and protection – that I felt there was a possibility that Joel would become violent. And then I called my Mom, who was at work and should be coming home in the next several hours, and asked her to NOT come home. I knew Joel would consider her a potential source of income, as well – and he was agitated enough, I felt, to pursue drastic measures to get it. I made sure to have a cordless phone in close proximity to myself in order to be able to phone 911 if necessary.
When he returned from the restroom, he was still definitely on edge, and I felt maybe feeding him would be the best place to start. “Joel, why don’t you let me make you a nice lunch. You sit right here, and I’ll make you a sandwich, okay?” And so I fixed lunch for him. He was ravenous – and ate it all in quick order.
He looked up quickly out the front bay window of the house and said, “Dina! There’s someone in your car! He’s got a gun!” He was very nervous, troubled by this new development! He paced from the dining room to peer around the curtain to see out the front window at the “guy” in my car.
I looked and saw no one, and said, “Joel. There’s no one in my car. I’m going to show you. You stay right here.” And much to his protest, I walked out the front door, down the walkway, and opened the driver side door of my car and got in – sitting where the “gunman” was supposed to have been.” I returned to the house, where Joel looked at me incredulously. I looked back and said, “You know what? I bet you’re just so tired you need a shower and a nap. You’ve had lunch. Go ahead and get a shower, and then lie down and have a nap. That will help.” And he complied.
And so he slept. During that time my Mom came home, she talked with my Grammy, and since it was just past Joel’s birthday, they decided to leave him birthday cards with birthday money in them, in hopes of placating him. They gathered their things and went away from home. I also contacted a friend and arranged for her to pick my children up from school. I wasn’t sure how long this would play out.
When Joel awakened some time later he came to the kitchen much calmer, and in a better humor. I quickly pointed out the fact that Mom and Grammy had left him birthday cards. He responded with, “Oh, that’s nice of them.” It was then that he asked, “Where are Rosy and the kids?”
I told him I didn’t know for sure – and I didn’t. I knew that they’d been afraid of Joel and had packed up their things and left Oregon – potentially for their home in New Mexico, but I had no idea where they were at right that particular moment. He thanked me for taking care of him, gave me a hug goodbye, I told him I loved him and would be praying for him, and he left. That day – June 8, 2004 – was the last time I saw my brother face to face. Until, that is, the day I was called to testify in pre-trial hearings in Corvallis on May 12, 2009.
Over the past five years we have dealt with probably every emotion possible. There have been days when I have felt that there was simply not the strength to draw the next breath – and my desperate plea to God could only be articulated as “Help!” And help came. There have been days of anger – at my brother, at the state of evil in the world, at the media, at nosy people. There have been days when sorrow was overwhelming and palpable.
Early on we determined that we needed a family spokesperson. I became that person. We also determined that we were firmly convinced that before God we could do or say nothing that might hinder or impede justice. Hence, we would disclose no details to the media. We had no idea what length of time might be involved, and determined if ever there was a time for resolution to this heartbreaking case – at that time we would decide whether or not it would be appropriate to do so.
A week ago today – September 21st, 2009 a press conference was called by Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson – who is, I can tell you from personal experience – a man of honor, integrity, and kindness – to announce that my brother, Joel Patrick Courtney, had decided just a few days prior to accept plea agreement in exchange for admitting his guilt, providing the details of the crimes and the location of Brooke Willberger’s remains – with the understanding that this case, which was to be tried as for the death penalty, would carry a life in prison without the possibility of parole clause. On Saturday, the 19th, with detailed instructions given by Joel to law enforcement, Brooke’s remains were located, and identity was confirmed.
When I was informed of the news I was in shock. Mostly over the fact that Joel agreed to cooperate and provide the truth he’s been asked for so many, many times. My Mother actually asked him at one point in time – and he’d responded with a certain amount of disdain that he’d never be held accountable for that, that no one could prove anything. I don’t know how long I cried after I heard the news – but I did. I was just so thankful for the truth being told! I was so thankful that the Wilberger’s could now have Brooke’s remains to lay to rest – that some sort of closure could perhaps come for them. I was thankful that some closure could come for us as well. Yes, there were tears of joy – but some of sorrow as well. Oh, the horrible, horrible loss.
I was actually still in the hospital when this all hit the news. It was only moments after the press conference began that I started getting phone calls and emails from the media requesting a statement. I had been in the hospital nearly three weeks at that point in time – and my level of stamina has been greatly compromised due to the lengthy nature of this illness. I knew I needed to write a statement to release to the media – but I absolutely had no energy to do so on the 21st.
On the 22nd I made it my goal to get my statement out to the media – and here it is:
My name is Dina Courtney McBride. I am the eldest sister of Joel Patrick Courtney. I am currently hospitalized for a lengthy ongoing health problem, and am unable to make a statement in person at present. I would, however, like to make a brief statement.
During the early morning hours of November 30, 2004 a phone call awakened our family. Information was given that informed us that my younger brother, Joel Patrick Courtney, had been arrested in New Mexico – we did not know what the charge was at that point in time. It was later that evening when we learned that he had been accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a young college co-ed at knife-point.
That evening began a conversation amongst my husband and I that started with the half-posed questions, “Do you think….” Pause, “He couldn’t be involved with…” and then finally, “It’s impossible to even think it’s possible.”
Those phrases came because as soon as we heard of the details of the case in New Mexico – we couldn’t help but wonder at the similarities related to the disappearance of Brooke Wilberger.
We talked at length. We tried to reconstruct events from several months earlier. We came up with a basic idea of a timeline, and then we went to our family datebook and compared notes.
With dawning realization, we dreaded that there was, perhaps, a chance that Joel was somehow involved in the abduction of beautiful, vivacious, precious Brooke Wilberger.
What do you do when you are faced with the thought that someone whom you love is capable of something so inexplicably evil? Who do you call? We wondered if we were just being paranoid. We wondered if we were not paranoid enough.
After a great deal of time communicating about it – well into the early hours of the morning, we concluded that we would pray, sleep on it, and then if we still felt that there was any chance of Joel’s involvement, we should contact law enforcement.
As it turned out, we didn’t have time – law enforcement contacted us. Early December 2004 began a working relationship between my Mother, now deceased, myself, and the various law enforcement agencies involved with the pursuit of truth and justice for Brooke Wilberger and her loving family.
From the very first inkling of a possible connection, the core of our family has stood with the solid conviction that while we love Joel, we answer to God first and foremost, and would commit to making ourselves available to the pursuit of clarification of facts and events.
This has been a long and difficult season for all concerned. Our hearts continue to weep for the Wilberger family. We weep for Joel’s family – two of whom are young children who have suffered losses that continue to break our hearts. There are countless other family members and friends who have suffered in one way or the other for the Wilberger family, and our own.
Our first prayer from November 30th, 2004 was: “Father God, we ask, if Joel is responsible for this that he would tell the truth, and please – let Brooke be found.” This is a prayer that has been oft repeated. We’d go so far as to say daily repeated – in the years since. When I learned that the truth had been revealed and Brooke’s body had been recovered, I wept. The emotions are bittersweet, but I am so thankful that the Wilberger family can have the resolution that they have so diligently sought.
As a family we want to express our love and continued support for the Wilberger family. Their unswerving devotion has been an inspiration and encouragement to us.
We also wish to thank the various law enforcement agencies that have been involved, the Assistant District Attorney, and District Attorney of Benton County. Their commitment to excellence, attention to detail, kind and compassionate interaction with our family have been a blessing.
Lastly, if I could ask anything of you – the media – and those who hear or read these words, to remember that these actions taken by my brother have deeply impacted – and will continue to do so – several extended families. We as a family continue to ask that you respect our privacy and honor our need to mourn and heal.
So why this lengthy post? Why the feeling that I need to re-introduce myself? I guess because I have so carefully avoided whole portions of my life, my experiences, my thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, and associations with the goal in mind to never do or say anything that might impede justice for Brooke Wilberger and her family. Now that there is resolution I feel a little bit of freedom to say in a sentence, “Oh, yes, and I have a brother named Joel.” Or maybe express a little about the tornado of emotions I experienced before, during, and after testifying at that pre-trial hearing in May of this year. Or any number of other things.
So this is me. My name is Dina. I have a blog – and probably contrary to conventional wisdom – I find great joy in sharing my life and thoughts and experiences here.