Justice for Payton- Trying to make sense of a toddler’s death
By Cathy Taylor
After nearly five months of police and coroner’s investigations, 19-year-old McBain resident Brittini Grabon was arrested on May 2nd, 2013 for the murder of her 14-month-old son Payton Disbrow. And for many of little Payton’s friends and family members, the five-month wait has been extremely painful.
On the morning of December 18, 2012, Brittini Grabon and her boyfriend arrived at Cadillac Mercy Hospital’s emergency room with Payton. They reported to the emergency staff that the child was “in stress” and in need of medical attention. Medical authorities at the hospital pronounced Payton dead upon arrival. The Missaukee County Sheriff’s Department considered the death as suspicious and immediately launched a criminal investigation into the matter.
Nearly five months have passed since that tragic morning. After a long and frustrating examination of crime scene evidence collected at the home of the child as well as the coroner’s findings from the autopsy of Payton’s body, police are now confident that Payton’s mother Brittini is responsible for the abuse and neglect that the toddler endured.
Marion resident Anna Schemke-Bell , the toddler’s paternal grandmother, graciously granted the Marion Press an exclusive interview this past Tuesday concerning the circumstances surrounding Payton’s tragic death as well as all of the hardships he endured during his short lifetime.
Schemke-Bell began, “I just want people to realize that at one point in his life, Payton was very happy and well-cared for. He was a little live-wire, a true little red head. He weighed nine pounds six ounces when he was born and was very healthy. But even when he wasn’t feeling well, he was always smiling.”
Payton’s mother Brittini was the product of a dysfunctional family environment. As a child she was shuffled between parents and step-parents.
“Brittini told us once that when she became pregnant with Payton, her family told her to abort the fetus,” stated Schemke-Bell. “When she refused to do it, she was then told that she would have to give up the child once it was born or she couldn’t come back home. Of course, sometimes it’s hard to know what to believe with her.”
Payton’s biological father, 21-year-old Kelly Sikkema, is currently serving a prison sentence in a correctional facility in Maryland for bank robbery. According to Sikkema’s mother, he and Grabon met at a party in Cadillac. That one-night encounter was the only contact the couple ever made. However, once Sikkema realized he had a son from the affair, he did everything within his power to become a part of the child’s life.
“Brittini lived with another boyfriend the entire time she was pregnant,” Anna said. “They stayed with his mom and her boyfriend in Evart.”
“When Payton was first born, she then went to live with her dad and stepmom,” stated Schemke-Bell. “She only lived there a couple of weeks before she was kicked out.”
Schemke-Bell’s best friend, Erin Hartsock added, “She’s basically been homeless with Payton until she moved in with Anna and her husband. Payton never had a stable home or a secure place to sleep until they came here.”
Anna opened up her home to Britinni and Payton back in March of 2012. For five months Anna took Brittini under her wing and tried to help her become a good mother for Payton. She tried to teach her all the things a new mother needs to know about caring for an infant. Looking back on the situation however, Anna believes a lot of what she was trying to teach Brittini never took hold.
“I tried to teach her how to become more in tuned to his cries and what they meant,” she began. “I tried to teach her how to keep Payton on a set schedule for meals and bedtime. But I guess I was the only one who was on a schedule. Maybe I should have let her take more of the responsibility.”
While Brittini and Payton shared a home with Anna and her family, it seemed as though Brittini may have finally settled in to a stable lifestyle. Anna suggested that she enroll for college classes to improve her chances of a brighter future.
“I told her right after she moved in that as long as she wasn’t working she should sign up for nursing classes and work on a degree,” stated Schemke-Bell. “She graduated high school in McBain, and from everything I’ve seen she was a good student in high school. I was here to take care of Payton for her, so there was no reason she couldn’t go back to school.”
Anna and her husband gave all they could to Brittini until August of 2012. It was at that time that she decided to leave Anna’s home and move in with her current boyfriend, Cole Gilde, from Falmouth.
“I know it’s that group she ended up with in Falmouth—that’s where it all went wrong,” Anna reflected. “It’s when the new boyfriend came into the picture that things began to change with her.”
Schemke-Bell continued, “Brittini would always bring him over for visitation with us every other weekend after she moved out. At first everything seemed fine. But when she dropped him off for one of our visits last October, I noticed some marks on him. I know that little kids fall and hurt themselves all the time, so I really didn’t want to think it was anything other than that.”
“It seemed that every time Brittini would drop Payton off, he would come flying into my arms so happy to be with us,” continued Schemke_Bell. “ And when it was time for him to go home with Brittini, he wouldn’t want to leave us. And then, when he came for his visit in November, I saw […all the new marks on him] and I knew what I had to do.”
Anna immediately contacted the proper authorities with her suspicions. Apparently, the authorities responded quickly to her calls because that was the last time little Payton was allowed to visit Anna and her family. Less than six weeks later, Payton was dead.
“In my opinion, I really don’t think Brittini feels she has done anything wrong,” stated Schemke-Bell. “After Payton died, she just went on with her life like nothing ever happened. She partied and posted the photos on Facebook. She worked at a couple of gas stations in Marion and McBain and had no problem showing her face in public.”
Schemke-Bell confided, “As a matter of fact, we couldn’t bury Payton for over a week after his body was released from the morgue because it interfered with her big birthday plans. My husband finally had enough of it and put his foot down. He met with the funeral director who was also trying to set up a date a time with her and they demanded that Payton be laid to rest. So she finally agreed.”
Anna and her family have chosen to stay out of the spotlight throughout the whole ordeal. They are however very appreciative of everything the community has done to reach out to them.
“We had a benefit dinner at the Eagle’s Club in February that raised a lot of money,” commented family friend Erin Hartsock. “The community really pulled together for us. Ebel’s Market in Falmouth donated about one hundred pounds of taco meat for the dinner. They were so very generous to us.”
The Missaukee County Sheriff, Jim Bosscher, has also been an asset to Anna and her family. He has remained focused on the investigation from the very beginning and tried to expedite the process to the best of his ability. Bosscher commented to 9 & 10 News recently that this discovery process has been the longest one he has ever been a part of in his career at the Sheriff’s Department.
Anna and all of her family members are left with conflicting emotions at this point. They believe that Brittini is far more upset for being arrested than over the actual death of her son.
“I would have taken custody of Payton in a heartbeat,” admitted Schemke-Bell. “I have always defended Brittini. But it seems that every time new information comes out about the case, I keep getting slapped in the face for believing in her. I just hope that one day she wakes up and realizes that she is responsible for what happened to Payton.”
Grabon is currently lodged in the Missaukee County Jail pending a preliminary examination scheduled for May 16, 2013.