- Christine McFadden, DVM
It was just to destroy me.
– Dr. Christine McFadden
She went out for a morning walk with her best friend, Amy Velasquez, and came home to find all four of her children brutally murdered. How do you recover from this devastating loss?
Dr. Christine McFadden is a veterinarian in Merced, CA. She founded the thriving Valley Animal Hospital with the philosophy: “Love dispensed here.” She was first married to Dr. Thomas Willis, a veterinarian in Bakersfield, CA. The couple had three children: Melanie, Stuart, and Stanley Willis. In an interview with Oprah, Dr. McFadden hinted there was physical abuse in this marriage.
Dr. McFadden next married retired Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy John Hogan. They had Michelle McFadden. Prior to their divorce, Dr. McFadden obtained a restraining order against Mr. Hogan because he was verbally abusive. He was, however, invited to participate in the children’s lives and had attended his daughter’s birthday party shortly before he murdered her.
The kids had lots of friends and excelled in school and in sports. Of course, they had lots of pets.
Nightmare in Merced
On March 26, 2002, Mr. Hogan entered the McFadden home while Dr. McFadden was on her early-morning walk. He murdered the boys in their beds and Melanie in the hall. Then, he took his own five-year-old daughter Michelle into Dr. McFadden’s bedroom and shot her while she was in his lap and killed himself. He left an eighteen page suicide note, and he left a voice-mail message:
I’m bankrupt, morally, physically, emotionally, monetarily. My body’s gone, my mind is gone. I have nothing left.
Dr. McFadden learned later that he had just been evicted from his apartment.
More than 2,000 mourners came to the funeral. They celebrated the lives of Melanie Lorraine Willis, the scholar who loved ballet and was running for senior class president; Stanley Richard Willis, the football star; Stuart Edward Willis, the soccer phenomenon; and Michelle, who wanted to be a veterinarian, just like her mom.
Trauma Therapist and Psychiatrist
Obviously, Dr. McFadden was an emotional mess. She was no longer vivacious. She didn’t work. She was on heavy mood-altering medications and saw her psychiatrist twice a week. She opted to remain in her home
with its memories of her children:
They’re everywhere here. They picked it out, they planted it. They broke it.
This is where they were born. I can still see their smudgy handprints on the walls. The plants they planted are here. Stuart’s tree is out in the front yard. Stan painted the house. The few minutes it took somebody to come in and put bullets into them is not what my children are all about.
Before, I never even had pictures in my wallet. That was the joke ~ that I didn’t need to because I always had at least one of my kids with me.
Melanie, Stanley, Stuart, and Michelle were the best things that ever happened to me. Even in their short lives, they exceeded any hopes I could have had for them.
Camping with Grandpa
Dr. McFadden established the MSSM Foundation (Michelle ~ Stanley ~ Stuart ~ Michelle) to celebrate her children’s lives with $53,000 in unsolicited donations from people touched by her story. She told Good Morning America:
I feel my children were such incredible people and I want the world to hear about them. I want to memorialize them and to allow them to do for the world what I think they would have done to make their mark on the world.
Melanie Lorraine Willis
Friendship scholarship for wonderful, loyal friends
– MSSM Foundation goal
In 2003, the MSSM Foundation began awarding $4,000 Friendship Scholarships to four graduates of the Merced Union High School District. Recipients were chosen based on testimonials about their qualities as friends. Friendship skills are more important than grade-point-average. Dr. McFadden got the idea because she:
Was trying to draw on something that all children could have in common, not any one thing that one of my four children might have done best. I wanted to honor all of them, and they had an incredible number of friends.
Michelle McFadden and Melanie Willis
Melanie Lorraine Willis
Ms. Willis was born on November 14, 1984. She was National Merit scholar with a 4.5 grade point who hoped to attend Stanford University. She was a cheerleader and studied ballet for 12 years.
She was a tremendous role model for her siblings, and set a hard standard to follow with all of her academic and social accomplishments. She had a large group of friends while maintaining a very close knit relationship with a special group of friends from elementary school. She was a very kind, generous, strong-willed, independent, exceptionally intelligent and motivated young woman who was widely loved and admired.
Stuart Richard Willis
Christine McFadden and Stuart Willis
Stuart Richard Willis
Master Willis was born on August 31, 1987. He was an outstanding soccer player and honor student. After his murder, his soccer coach received a call from an Olympic scout
~ to inquire about Stuart’s talent ~ Stuart’s dream come true. He loved to dance, play games, and work on the computer. He is remembered on the MSSM Foundation site:
Stuart was a risk-taker and didn’t mind an adventure, such as trying many of his mother’s exotic dishes and always loved her cooking regardless of what it looked like on a plate. . .He took great pride in his ability to tease and exasperate his younger sister, Michelle, while being a tremendously patient and fun playmate. Stuart was a very loving, kind, conscientious, firm, and competitive young man. He was a young and natural leader of his peers, and was very well respected and loved.
Stuart and Stan with Iguana at Mom's Clinic
Children’s playroom at Mercy Hospital in Merced
– MSSM Foundation goal
Stan Willis and Christine McFadden
Stanley Edward Willis
Stanley Edward Willis
Mr. Willis was born on July 19, 1986. He was a tremendous athlete, strong student, and popular with the girls. He was an avid outdoorsman who loved hunting, camping, and paintballing. He cared for his two huge dogs. He is remembered on the MSSM Foundation site:
Stan had a large group of friends with several close friendships that he maintained throughout grammar school. Stan was an amazing young man with a tremendous sense of humor and ability to entertain and interact with all ages, children through adults. He was a very calm, loving, intelligent and creative young man with a tremendously quick wit. Stanley had great presence and was a recognizable force as a leader in all that he did. He was well respected and loved by all his peers, their families and all who knew him.
Michelle McFadden and Stan Willis
Addition to the University of CA at Merced Library
– MSSM achieved goal
Dr. McFadden remortgaged her spacious ranch-style home to fund a $250,000 gift
to the University of California at Merced’s library.
UC Merced Lantern Room
On May 13, 2006, the McFadden-Willis Reading Room
was dedicated. It is on top of the main library building. At night, light spills out onto the campus and valley like a lantern.
Michelle Morgan McFadden, age 3 with her fish
Michelle Morgan McFadden
Miss McFadden was born on March 7, 1997. She had just celebrated her fifth birthday and was in preschool. She was precocious and mature for her age. She loved her pets, her mother’s flowers, and to fish. She spent a great deal of time at her mother’s veterinary clinic “treating” her stuffed animals. She is remembered at the MSSM Foundation site
Michelle was greatly loved by her brothers, sister and her mom. She returned their love and enjoyed all of the activities and noise associated with having older siblings. She was an amazing girl with much vibrancy and love. She brought sunshine wherever she went.
- Oprah and Christine McFadden with twins
Christine Meets Jerry
After her second divorce and the murders of her children, Dr. McFadden wasn’t in the mood for men. But, they came out of the woodwork to pursue her. One of her suitors was widower Judge Gerald (Jerry) Corman. He too was emotionally shut down after caring for his late wife, who had spent years before her death in a vegetative state due to diabetes complications. She told Oprah
I wasn’t demanding of him, and he was there for me. I thought if he was around, I might sleep three hours a night. So in some ways I probably used him. But we had good conversation, a lot in common. We certainly enjoyed each other. And the only time I was guaranteed not to think about the children was when we were having sex.
Although Dr. McFadden was in her late forties, she decided having more children would be a good way to move forward with her life.
Affectionate. Quiet. Thoughtful. And gentle.
On January 26, 2007
, she gave birth to twin girls, Nicole and Claire. The babies were born almost five years after her other children’s deaths. Dr. McFadden combined Stuart and Michelle’s former rooms to create a fresh space
for the twins. She reflected on her new life and told Oprah
I’m happily married. I’m thrilled to have these two babies, to live again. I’d like to work part-time again in my veterinary clinic. I still love the animals.