Touched by Violence

This is a phrase I’ve heard used before to describe situations where a person or place has endured a violent episode. Right now the phrase feels inadequate. Dainty, even. It certainly doesn’t live up to the task at hand. This post is especially for those of you who have been with me for more than a couple of years. If that’s you, then you might remember that in December of 2007, Manessa, my then 16 year old sister-in-law had run away from her home, and many of you worked with me to help my family and I find her. What we didn’t know then is that she was actually running away from a man who was hurting her; a relative who wintered with the family, fooling everyone and hiding his activity with her from everyone including her mother. About a year later, Manessa found the courage to tell her mother what had happened. The police and courts got involved after that, and after pleading guilty to lesser charges, he was released on 6 years probation.

This past month has been a rough time for my family. My wife lost her mother, and her sister was put in the hospital when this man entered their Florida-based home office and shot all four people on the premises. My mother-in-law, Kathryn Kalisz (Kitty), was shot dead in front of Manessa, who in turn took what appears to have been 6 bullets herself. As the person who had gotten him in trouble, there seems little doubt that he never intended her to get up again, but she’s a tough kid and after 3 weeks in the hospital is recovering well, though she and her fiance have lost their unborn child.

Besides Kitty and her daughter, he also shot and killed the office manager, Deborah Tillotson, and injured a relatively new employee, Amy Wilson, (whom we are happy to have been told has been released from the hospital). He then fled down the highway where he was finally stopped in a shoot out with police that cost the life of Sheriff’s Captain, Chad Reed. Fortunately, Kitty’s middle daughter had left early for an appointment that day and escaped physically unharmed.

If you heard anything about this story, it was probably in relation to the slain police officer. With tens of thousands dead in Haiti, this event was a relatively minor story, and rightly so. What happened in Haiti is a tragedy on a scale I’m sure that I can’t quite imagine. Understand that I don’t want to take anything away from that, but you should know that in the life of my own family, Haiti was a distant cry compared to what was happening around us. In fact, when the news was first reported to us, we were told that Kitty and both sisters, my wife’s entire family, had been shot and killed. So in truth, as first the news that Manessa was alive but in critical condition in the hospital, and later that Suzie was safe, was revealed to us, it can honestly be said that news got better as the evening wore on.

Kathryn was my mother-in-law. She was an artist and an internationally acclaimed color expert. Color expert. What does that even mean? Its hard to explain in a sentence, but she knew all about color from an artistic and scientific point of view. I doubt there are more than a dozen people alive who could match her knowledge of color and how it worked. Only a small fraction of her knowledge is in her book, Understanding Your Color. I had always joked that she’d forgotten more about color than I would ever know. About 11 years ago Kitty started crafting the pieces for her own business based on color and its application to life and health. She worked it every day for about 2 years, self-publishing her own book, manufacturing her own products in her basement, developing her own curriculum and teaching her courses herself. Once everything was developed, she then launched her business in earnest under the name Sci\ART. Over time her business began growing. It has become one of the most respected names in its industry, and has the most color-accurate products offered in the field of color analysis. As of January this year, she still manufactured her own products in her home, but she had the help of 4 employees (two were her daughters) and has certified trainers on 4 continents teaching her curriculum to students all around the world.

In fact, Bob Ostrom and I were slated to travel to Florida this February to pick up some training from her on color mixing and matching, and we were going to start teaching classes for her ourselves. Its odd, but even though most of the illustrations in her book were mine, even though her websites have all been designed by me, even though much of her marketing materials were my design and I helped her put together her swatchbook designs, my schedule never allowed me to attend any of her classes. After 8 years of supporting her business and her teaching, I honestly can’t believe I had never made the time to actually sit through a weekend course, since I’d always wanted to. I’ve been told there are taped sessions. I hope I can get hold of a copy of them someday soon.

As great a loss to our family as she was, it just doesn’t stop there. The business was the sole source of income for both of my wife’s sisters. When you stop to think about it, you realize that a sizable portion of company was put out of commission that day. Scores, if not hundreds, of businesses depend on the products that Sci\ART manufactures so that they can do business, and the one person who knew every detail of the business is gone. Suzanna Grief, the middle daughter, is working hard to keep Sci\ART going and to completely wrap her head around the intricacies of the business. Even so, with all of the accounts and records in Kitty’s name and the legal red tape Suzie is dealing with right now, it will be a while before things will be completely back ‘on track’. We have full faith that she can do it, but to her credit, she’s doing it without having had a pay-day in over 3 weeks.

Even if Manessa could get paid to work right now, she still couldn’t work, and most likely won’t be able to for a while longer. She’ll be held up in the hospital for several more weeks, recovering for a time, and then will still face at least one more very serious surgery in late spring with another few months of recovery after that. True enough, while in the hospital her own needs are more or less being met, but she has a horse, which is apparently a bit more expensive to keep than my cat, and other expenses that need to be met. We are praying for a full recovery for Manessa in time. Also, we hope that since he’s facing 3 murder charges in a state with the death penalty, Manessa will never have to fear her attacker again. Through it all, its possible that the darkest chapter of this ordeal is actually behind her.

As for me, my wife has been gone 3 weeks now, tending to her sister in the hospital. Now that Manessa has been moved to rehab, which is apparently hospital code for ‘its time for the patient to learn to take care of herself’, my wife will be returning home to my daughter and I this weekend. We can’t wait to see her.

A few donations from other family members that have come in have helped to offset the costs these two are facing for now, but will most likely not be enough to get them through to the end. They are accepting donations at their mother’s memorial site (link at the bottom).

Bob would tell me that I don’t need to apologize to anyone, and I suppose that really I don’t, but I certainly want to, especially those of you who have stuck with me over the years. I know you haven’t heard from me in almost a month, and certainly not regularly. I had just started to blog regularly and Bob and I had just gotten our podcast back onto a somewhat regular twice-monthly schedule. Now, not only have those been affected, but you probably haven’t seen me much, if at all on Twitter, Facebook or any other sites lately. With all that has happened, and with my wife across the country tending to her sister, I’ve been holding down the day job, running my wife’s business when needed, doing all of the ‘at home’ stuff (shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc.) and devoting the rest of my free time to taking care of my little girl who has cried herself to sleep the majority of the evenings; I’ve just been trying to be there for her while keeping her routine going. She grew up in Grandma’s house, her aunt Nessa is really more of a big sister to her, and mom isn’t here. And she got a cold the first week out (refer to the ‘mom isn’t here’ part for impact on that news).

I’d like to take a moment to praise my team at ESPN as well. I don’t know if this applies to the entire company, or even to the entire Disney family of companies, but MY TEAM at ESPN has been very supportive and helpful. Even to the point of my working slightly shortened but very focused days so that I didn’t have to hire a sitter to stay with my girl after school let out. These guys rock. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I couldn’t ask to work with a better group of folks.

So, again, for basically disappearing on you guys, I’d like to apologize. I know with certainty that you will understand, but really, I should have at least given you a reason. Anyway, my schedule has been so tight that not even Bob has been able to really get any of my attention, so if that’s any indication, you know I’ve just dropped off the face of the earth. I wish I could say it was over, but chances are Louanna and I will be distracted for a little while to come between probate, helping Suzie where we can, and when Manessa gets out of the hospital, we’ll be scraping up funds for tickets and flying down for funeral services. However, Bob and I have lined up interviews with the ever-determined Dani Jones and an old buddy of our, Dan Thompson, so even if our Twitter episode gets put off a few weeks, we won’t be leaving you completely hanging.

One more thing I feel really bad about is my preview copy of Seth Godin’s Linchpin. I had received it early with the stipulation with my own hope that I would blog about it, good or bad, before the launch date (Seth wrote to me and corrected my thinking that blogging about it was not part of the agreement, only that I read it). As you probably read from my previous article which was actually posted the day all of this happened, I was well underway with the book. Since then, I’ve continued to pick at it, and I can tell you its really good so far, but I have yet to finish it. Go pick it up. Read it. If you’re the kind of person who finds our podcast useful, then this book was written just for you. I’ll publish my final review of it soon, and I hope that Seth is OK with the fact that I dropped the ball on this entirely.

If you’re interested in reading some of Kitty’s writing, you can find her blog here:

or her book (highly recommended for any artist, but I’m not sure how quickly copies are shipping at this time) here:
If you’re an artist, skip the client edition and go for the full version. Its written with color analysts in mind, but really, isn’t ever artist a ‘color analyst’ in one form or another?

A small memorial site has been put up here:
and if you’re in a position to help the sisters out a bit, you can make a small online donation as well.

and a tribute from her first student, Maytee Garza:

There are stories all over the web, but one that has done a decent job of putting together the information without massacring too many of the facts or dwelling too heavily on sensationalism is here:


  1. says


    Words of comfort from a stranger may mean very little at a time like this,but I’m sorry for the tragedy that you and your family are going through. I only know you through your podcasts, but you sound like a strong person. Your blog post shows you to be very caring as well. I hope time and the legal system will allow you, your daughter, your wife and her family to heal.

    Stay strong and do what you have to during this time of grieving.

    Marty Qatani

  2. says

    Wow Chris. I’m so grateful to be able to see this through your eyes…it’s lovely and very touching. What a blessing you’ve been, and continue to be to your wife, your daughter and of course to Kitty. Thank you

  3. Lauren Tillotson says

    Hi, Chris. We’ve never met, but I’m Lauren Tillotson, Deborah Tillotson’s youngest daughter. I spoke with Kitty and Manessa both once and got to spend some time with Magic and the puppies when I spent a day over at their home.

    Our family hasn’t been able to get in touch with Manessa to be able to wish her well or give her our condolences, so I was hoping you could do that for us. We’re sorry for your loss and we hope Manessa’s doing well and that all of the animals are safe and sound.

    I’d love to be able to get in contact with you at some point and speak, if you ever have time.

    Thank you, God bless.

  4. says


    I am happy to say that while Manessa’s ordeal is not over, she has been released from the hospital and is with her fiance at this time, getting ready to try and start the next phase of her life. Its far from ideal, but she has spunk and is pushing forward with much spirit.

    Gunshot victims are hidden from the public as a general rule, so its no wonder you haven’t been able to contact her. I will forward your message on to her and my wife has already read it and will most likely try to contact you shortly.

    I’m unbelievably sorry for you loss. I can’t imagine what its like to think that ‘mom just wanted to go to work’, and never came home. If I’d been in state at the time of your mother’s funeral, I would have made a point to attend. The rest of the family was at the hospital with Manessa, so I hope it’s understood why no one from our family showed. I know that you mom was more than liked by Kitty. In fact, my wife tells me that she was ‘loved’.

    So far as we here in Connecticut know, all of the animals are safe and accounted for, though many are looking for new homes.

    Thank you for contacting us,

    Chris Wilson


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