The Lights Will Never Fade
Chapter 1: Charity
Peyton carefully lifted the brass handles on the cracked, wooden frame. She nervously opened the window as quietly as possible. She placed her left foot onto the roof just below as her dad’s scream rang out from the other end of the house. She leaned over the edge of the roof and stared down at the deck beneath her. She judged that the drop couldn’t be more than twelve feet below, so she timed her jump just right. She landed on her feet and caught herself with her hands as she fell forward onto the sturdy boards.
She raced into the woods that stood less than thirty feet from the deck, and she ran as far as she could until she found a row of bald cypress trees and bradford pears to hide behind. The clouds carried the heavy raindrops that wanted to fall on that muggy, September day. Oklahoma stubbornly holds onto the heat in the summer, even as fall approaches. Peyton made it a few hundred yards deep into the woods and threw herself down into the leaves and sticks so she could block out the world around her.
Everything went silent with the exception of a few bluebirds and running squirrels in the wooded neighborhood that sat in the heart of Jenks, Oklahoma. The girl waited silently. She trembled and clinged to a desperate hope that the killer didn't see her escape into the woods. She feared for her family, but she couldn’t muster the strength to go back inside to see if they were all right. No, September 1 made for a dreadful day in the life of Peyton Hamilton. She lay on top of the ground for a full hour before she walked slowly back to where her home rested on the peaceful street.
Peyton watched her house from the woods and saw no movement inside. She listened but heard nothing. Only silence rang from her home, and the smell of Bermuda grass leaped from the lawn in front of her. She carefully walked inside through the back door but heard only one sound, the ominous footsteps she made along the way. She called out, “Mom? Dad? Sabrina? Blakey?”
The floors creaked as she stepped through the kitchen and into the dining room. The maple and birchwood floors absorbed each step she took while the air stood completely still all around her. She walked up the stairs, and when she reached the top she sensed something ominously dark and sinister.
“Blakey, are you there?”
Peyton turned the corner and opened the door to Blake’s room. She peered into her ten-year-old brother’s bedroom and saw Blake lying on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. His eyes were frozen wide open, and the covers and sheets lay there restlessly, drenched in blood.
She made her way over to the side of Blake’s bed and couldn’t believe her eyes.
“Blakey?” she called out through misty eyes. “Blakey, can you hear me?”
Blake did not answer. Peyton bent down to see if she could hear a heartbeat or if he was still breathing. She panicked and hugged her bloodied and deceased brother.
“Mom! Dad! Get in here, Blakey’s dead!”
No one answered.
She hurried out of Blake’s room and went into her twelve-year-old sister, Sabrina’s room. She found her motionless and lying in nearly the exact same position and condition that she found Blake. Sabrina was covered in blood from head to toe just like her brother, but she also had a few small gashes and cuts on her face. Peyton looked away from the blood-soaked bed as the gruesome scene troubled her. She couldn’t stay in the room any longer. Her sister was clearly gone.
She moved frantically down the hall and burst through her parent’s room. She immediately spotted her father covered in blood and lying on the ground, but she did not see her mother. She walked slowly over to her dad and did her best to breathe through the strong smell of blood and flesh though she didn’t know it was the stench of flesh she was inhaling.
“Dad? Are you okay?” she called out, but Kevin Hamilton did not answer his oldest daughter.
Her father lay face down on the carpet. She watched his body, but it did not move. Peyton knelt down and carefully shook her dad to see if he might still be alive. She rolled him over and almost threw up at the sight of her battered father. She didn’t recognize his face. She noticed what appeared to be a series of stab wounds, and his body was covered in cuts and wounds. There must have been at least forty gashes from his head down to his stomach. She stood back up and headed towards the master bathroom door. She noticed blood smeared across the door and the fact that it was closed shut. She nearly caught a glimpse of her own reflection in the bloody door as she prepared to enter.
Peyton turned the handle and stared incredulously into the mirror. Her mother lay in the tub in the same condition as everyone else. Her face and body looked disfigured and mangled. She couldn’t believe that her entire family had been brutally murdered, and she ran as quickly as she could to her bedroom. She picked up her cell phone and dialed 911.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“Yes,” Peyton said in a panic, still somewhat out of breath from running through the home, “someone broke into my house and killed my family!”
“Is that person still in your home?” the operator asked, seemingly caught off guard by the direct and tragic claim.
“No, I don’t think so. I escaped through my window when I heard a man fighting with my parents. Then I heard my dad yell for us to run.”
“Okay, and what is your name?”
“Peyton Hamilton. I’m so stupid,” she rambled out loud to the stranger on the phone as she rocked back and forth a bit on her bed. “I left while he killed my little brother and sister. I should have tried to help them escape too.”
“You did the right thing, Peyton. If you had tried to help them, he would have more than likely killed you too. There’s nothing you could have done. Police and paramedics are on their way. Find a safe place to sit and relax until they get there. Stay on the phone with me so I can make sure...”
She hung up the phone before the 911 operator finished speaking and walked downstairs to wait for the police to arrive. She glanced down at her hands and noticed blood smeared on her arms as well as all over her clothes. She ignored the ringing phone which was surely the 911 operator calling back. She didn’t want to change because she feared she would destroy evidence that might help them find who did this. She sat on the couch and stared off into the distance, not crying or doing anything really. She felt more shock than any other troubling emotion that tried to creep in. Who could have wanted to hurt my family, and why was I lucky enough to escape? These thoughts raced through her mind when the doorbell finally rang.
She opened the door, and the officers walked her back to the living room while paramedics rushed upstairs to the terrible scene above. The first person to walk into Blake’s room bent over as soon as he crossed the threshold. He turned and raced for the bathroom and made it just in time to throw up in the toilet and not add to the mess all around. His partner waited for him to come out of the bathroom, and the two of them re-entered the boy’s bedroom. They felt for a pulse, but Blake’s life had already left him. They made their way to the other rooms and found the same thing. Kevin, Samantha, Sabrina, and Blake Hamilton were all dead. They called for a bus to come and transport the bodies to the morgue while the officers took pictures of the crime scene and searched for any evidence of an intruder.
They dusted for prints and located several sets on the door frames, bathroom sink, and on the end table in the master bedroom. They were unable to locate a murder weapon and couldn’t find a missing knife from the kitchen that might have been used in the murders. Detectives arrived shortly after to review the evidence and study the scene. They thought that Peyton might have something to do with the murders since she was the only one who managed to escape. They needed to determine a motive for the eighteen-year-old to have committed such a heinous attack on her own family. If she was the killer, the weapon she used must be close by, around the house or out in the woods where she claimed she hid during the attack. This notion, however, was difficult to believe that a petite, eighteen-year-old girl could inflict this much damage on her two siblings and her parents.
“Hi, Peyton, I’m Detective Nelson, and this is my partner, Detective Biggs. We’d like to ask you a few questions, if that’s okay with you.”
“Sure,” Peyton spoke in a calm and controlled voice.
“What made you jump off your roof and hide in the woods?” Detective Nelson shifted himself towards Peyton as he sat on the cheap, floral couch across from her. “How did you know that something was wrong?”
“I heard my dad yell for us to run. He sounded terrified. I’d never heard him sound like that before.”
“So, that’s when you climbed out of your window?” Detective Biggs asked as he wrote down the young girl’s answers.
“Yeah, I didn’t know what to do, and my first instinct told me to jump and run,” she said matter-of-factly.
“I don’t want to make you feel guilty.” Detective Nelson shifted his body once again. Peyton could tell that he looked a little uncomfortable. She wasn’t just a young girl, but she was a small and pleasant-looking girl. She understood that she didn’t portray the appearance of someone who could do something like this. “But did you think about trying to help your little brother and sister?”
“Honestly, I didn’t think. My dad’s voice sounded so shaken and serious that I believed he really meant for me to get out of there right away.”
“I understand,” Detective Nelson continued, “and I’m not blaming you for any of this. Do you know of anyone who would have wanted to hurt your family? Is there anyone who held a grudge against your parents or maybe someone who had a falling out with them?”
“I can’t think of anyone,” she said. “Well, Dad did have this argument with the guy who painted our house like a month ago, but I can’t imagine someone would kill over something like that.”
“Do you remember his name?” asked Detective Nelson. “What were they arguing about?”
“I don’t remember his name, just that he painted the inside of our house, and Dad didn’t pay him the final three thousand dollars owed because the guy took three weeks longer than he said it would take and also because he did such a poor job. He didn’t even paint the closet in my room.”
“How did you get the blood all over you?” Detective Biggs glanced at her stained hands and clothes. The amount of blood on Peyton’s body and inside the home was impossible not to stare at. She caught her own eyes fixed on the crusted blood that lined her skin more than once.
“I found my brother first, and I hugged him. I know I shouldn’t have, but I love him so much, I just couldn’t help myself. And then I know I touched everyone else to check for a pulse. My dad was lying on his stomach, so I turned him over when he didn’t answer my calls.”
“We’re going to catch whoever hurt your family,” Detective Biggs assured her, “but right now we need to take pictures of you to have as evidence. After that, we’ll get you cleaned up and find you a safe place to stay.”
An officer came into the living room and photographed her arms, hands, clothes, and hair. The blood rested across her body, hardened like a messy ice storm. The detectives appeared puzzled with no signs of a break-in, nothing missing, and no murder weapon. Peyton didn’t look to be physically capable of committing such a violent crime. The detectives drove her to a friend’s house since she had no other family in the Tulsa area. Her only true relative lived in Connecticut. Kevin’s sister, Charity Hamilton, lived in New Milford, Connecticut, a bedroom community that sat a little over an hour from both Hartford and New York City. Peyton and her family visited Aunt Charity every summer since she was born and often during other holidays. They were extremely close, and Charity loved Peyton and her siblings like they were her own children. They recently returned from a trip to Connecticut in early August as they spent ten days with Aunt Charity and enjoyed the steamy Northeast.
The next morning, Charity arrived in Tulsa and drove the fifteen minutes to Jenks where Peyton remained. She found her friend Kendra’s house and knocked on the door through puffy eyes. She’d just begun to mourn the loss of her only brother, nephew, niece, and sister-in-law. Kendra answered the door while Peyton stood directly behind her. She barely slept during the night and bags managed to fully form underneath her eyes.
“Oh, sweetie,” Charity spoke through heavy tears, “I’m so sorry.”
She reached out and held her niece. Peyton rested her head on her aunt’s shoulder and received the love that she held for her. The two hugged each other for what seemed like an eternity and went inside to sit and talk about what to do next.
“I’m here for you, Peyton,” Charity said from the black leather couch in Kendra’s living room. “We’ll get through this together and find a way to move on.”