Alec Kreider was the one who pleaded guilty to murder, but “it took me years to forgive myself,” his father, Tim Kreider, writes in a new book, “Refuse to Drown: A Father’s Unthinkable Choice.”
Tim Kreider turned in his son to police after the Manheim Township High School sophomore told him this:
He had stabbed to death best friend Kevin Haines and his parents, Tom and Lisa, while they slept in their Blossom Hill home in May 2007.
The police hadn’t even considered Alec Kreider a suspect, but “there had been times ... where the thought entered my head,” his father writes.
Not turning him in is “the unthinkable choice” referenced in the title, even though “a father’s instinct is to protect his children,” he writes.
And his son expected that protection even after what he had done, the book reveals.
For years, Tim Kreider tormented himself about his own role in the tragedy.
“I got caught on the downward spiral of blame and insecurity wondering what I could have done to keep Alec from doing what he did. There was a constant voice in my head asking me, Where did I fail?” he writes.
He had the sensation of drowning, drowning in self-recrimination.
“Every time I had lost my temper or had been a poor role model festered in my mind.”
In an interview at the Lancaster Newspapers offices, Tim Kreider recalls that he put some restrictions on violent video games his son played, but he should have been stricter. “Filling his mind with negative images didn’t help his attitude,” he says.
And knowing his son had anger issues, he also writes, “I should have forced Alec to get help,” not just urged him.
“I should have been a better spiritual leader for my family — having faith may have helped Alec in his fight against his illness, given him strength to reach out.”
It was too late for that, he realized. Too late for his family (the Kreider parents were divorced and shared custody of their three children). Too late for the Haines family and their surviving daughter, Maggie, then a college student.
But it might not be too late for someone else.
Tim Kreider says he wrote the book to “add another chapter” to a tragic story and most wants to “prevent a tragedy from happening.”
There is “hope and redemption in sharing,” he says. Had his son shared his darkest thoughts, he might have had help to get beyond them without destroying lives, including his own, he explains.
The father’s aim in publishing the book, written with Holtwood author Shawn Smucker over 3½ years, is to “change one life for the positive,” he says.
A new faith tested
Tim Kreider’s own life was changing for the positive before everything came crashing down nearly seven years ago.
The former Fulton Bank mortgage underwriter had just months before embraced the Christian faith of his then-fiance and now wife, Lynn.
With his nascent faith, he urged Alec to pray and read the Bible, which Tim Kreider says his son did.
Through it all, “I wasn’t angry at God for what happened,” he says. Nor did he see it as God’s will, because he says his son acted out of free will.
Instead, he found support in churches and from pastors, though he recalls hearing a sermon on Abraham’s sacrificing of his son Isaac was like “a punch in the stomach.”
Kreider, now a resident of Womelsdorf, did much of the writing in what is now the book as therapy when he was disabled by grief and receiving counseling. After speaking with youth groups about his son’s actions, a friend at the Elizabethtown Center for Parent-Youth Understanding suggested he publish the story.
Previously, he notes, he refused to tell his story on news outlets such as “Dr. Phil” and “20/20.”
He has promised that half of his profits from the book will go to nonprofit organizations, including Bethany Children’s Home, Boystown and his own, Also-Me.org.
He has no desire to rehash the lurid details of the crime or cause further pain to the Haines’ relatives with his book, he says.
One of the reasons he opted to self-publish is he feared a secular publisher would sensationalize both the story and book cover and not be sensitive to the Haines family’s pain.
And because “I want to share my faith without preaching,” he also was wary of faith-based publishers. He feared the book would be “pigeonholed” by many potential readers who would think, “He’s trying to sell me God,” he says.
Still no reason why
One thing Tim Kreider isn’t selling is a rationale for his son’s crimes.
He writes that when his son confessed, he “never gave a motive ... only said something about Kevin annoying him lately.”
Asked whether his son later told him anything about why he killed the Haines family, Tim Kreider says no: “Nothing that makes any sense. And anything on my part would be a conjecture.”
He ventures that “deep down there may be a reason he doesn’t want to share or he doesn’t really know.”
The father says the only explanation he can conceive of is the one a state policeman told him at the time: “Sometimes kids make really bad decisions.”
Tim Kreider visits his son about once a month at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township, near Shamokin.
Though he didn’t qualify for an insanity defense, Alec Kreider takes anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medicine and recently joined a therapy group.
The system doesn’t “waste resources” (such as psychiatrists) on prisoners who will never re-enter society, the father notes.
His son, though, has not given up on getting out someday, even though he is serving three life sentences consecutively. His hopes were raised by recent Supreme Court rulings that have judged as unconstitutional the mandatory life sentences for juveniles that were handed down after June 2012. (He was sentenced in 2008.)
Tim Kreider would like to see his son studying while in prison, but law is the only subject he seems interested in right now.
“He still has a lot of growing up and maturing to do,” Tim Kreider says, noting Alec will turn 23 next month.
He says it full of the regret of knowing that Kevin Haines never had the chance to grow up and mature and his sister lost her parents.
Still having his own son is “a double-edged sword” in that he witnesses his “ongoing pain and struggle.” But he is quick to add, “But then, I never lost a child to death.’’
Though Tim Kreider has a relationship with his younger son, a college sophomore, his elder daughter has refused to communicate with her father for what he says she considers his shortcomings as a parent.
Still, after visiting his first-born in prison, he writes, “my mind comes back around to that same old concern: I wonder who will visit with him when I’m gone.”
Aaron's Books, 35 E. Main St., Lititz, will host the launch of “Refuse to Drown” on Feb. 1. Tim Kreider and Shawn Smucker will sign the book from noon to 2 p.m. Another appearance is set for 10:15 a.m. Feb. 9 at Gap Community Church. Signed copies can also be ordered at aaronsbooks.com.