Of the four people who were honored at Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman’s Victims Services Award Ceremony, all had been touched by the murder of Michelle Castillo in 2014.
Braulio M. Castillo was convicted of murdering his estranged wife, Michelle, and attempting to stage the scene as a suicide. The Castillos’ five children were asleep in the house while their father killed their mother.
Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Nicole Wittmann described what the civilian winner of the award, the Meekers, went through when they took in the Castillo’s five children.
“They were there when these children were told that their mother had died,” Wittmann said. “And they were there when they were told that their father had probably done it, and they were there when they were told that they would never go home again.”
The Castillos’ neighbors, David and Stephanie Meeker, took in the children shortly after the murder, caring for them through the two-year process between arrest and conviction.
“I will tell you that one of the most horrific days of my life was when I had to take their now second-youngest child into the court to tell what he saw that night,” Wittmann said. David Meeker was in the courtroom for that testimony and cross-examination of the boy, who was then 9 years old. The Meekers are now seeking full custody of the children.
The honoree from the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office was the deputy who oversaw investigations into Castillo’s case.
Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Victim Witness Program Director Gigi Lawless credited Sheriff’s Office Master Detective Michael Grimsley with putting together the cases that sent both Braulio Castillo and Minh Nguyen to convictions for first degree murder and life sentences in prison.
Nguyen, who fatally shot his ex-girlfriend’s husband, pled no contest to first degree murder. Lawless said that is very unusual, crediting Grimsley’s “airtight” case.
Lawless said that when she asked around the department, “Everyone said that Mike is not only a great detective, but also a fantastic person. It’s not a show, it’s not just a job to him.”
The ceremony also recognized Leesburg Police Department Lt. Jamie Sanford, who heads the department’s Criminal Investigations Division. Lawless said, “Normally, supervisors don’t come onto our radar as candidates for this award.”
“Jamie really is a rare gem among supervisors,” Lawless said. “She is a true leader in every sense.”
But before Sanford joined the Leesburg Police Department in 2015, she worked for the Sheriff’s Office. And it was there that she was the first person to talk to the Meekers, said David Meeker.
“Between (Deputy) Mark McCaffrey, and yes, Mike Grimsley, and yes, a number of other people with the Sheriff’s Office, we were treated both with such respect, but also such care,” Meeker said.
He and other speakers wished to shift focus away from perpetrators to victims.
“This is not something that I think deserves applause. It’s not something that deserves anyone to stand up, necessarily,” Meeker said, in response to the standing ovation he and his wife received. “What this deserves is for somebody to recognize that there’s a story to be told, and the story to be told belongs to Michelle. She can’t tell her story.”
“There is nothing more important than caring for those who suffer at the hand of criminal agents,” state Sen. Richard H. Black (R-13) said in his statements.
Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), a career mental health professional, said, “It didn’t strike me until just now that I know all the stories of these people, but I’ve never seen their pictures before.”
“We’ve become an interesting society in that though social media, we’re in everyone’s business, until it’s important to be in someone’s business,” Randall said.
Keynote speaker Elisabeth Corey was herself a victim of sex trafficking. Until she escaped at 18 years old, she said, she was a victim of sex trafficking and sexual abuse at the hands of her family. She suffered from depression, anxiety, and chronic physical pain, and did not begin to actively address her history until 16 years later, when she had twins. Now, she is a single mother of two, building a business to provide support to trauma victims.
“I’m not what you see in the media, so it’s very important that I tell my story,” Corey said.
“There will come a time, I am confident, when Stephanie, and I will have a larger story to tell,” Meeker said. There will definitely come a time when the kids will have their own story to tell. But please know that Michelle Castillo’s story will live on.”