Christmas Eve will be quieter this year for 67-year-old Edna Eagles.
Her daughter, Tanya Maisonet, was stabbed to death in October at her Atlanta-area apartment. Police have charged Maisonet’s husband with the killing, and Eagles is now raising the couple’s 9-year-old son, Caleb.
So, there won’t be laughter and conversation as Eagles and Maisonet stay up late to wrap presents for Caleb. There won’t be playful bickering in the wee hours of Christmas Day over who gets just a few hours’ sleep before waking up early with Caleb. And Maisonet won’t be there as her son opens his presents.
But, thanks to the kindness of strangers in the Columbia area, there still will be a Christmas in their house, including a tree and presents.
“She would take him shopping and let him pick out what he wanted,” Eagles said of her daughter. “She would always tell him she wasn’t sure that he was gonna get those things. Most of the time, he would get what he asked for. She made sure of that.”
‘The worst mistake she had ever made’
Maisonet, 45, had lived in Columbia since high school and was a dental hygienist, Eagles said.
She moved to the Atlanta area earlier in the fall to get back together with her husband and Caleb’s father, Saul Maisonet-Polanco.
“It was the worst mistake she had ever made,” Eagles said. “I felt like he was hiding something. My spirit would never feel very happy with him like I wanted it to be.”
Maisonet-Polanco never physically harmed Maisonet before, Eagles said. But he showed violent tendencies: punching holes in the walls of their home, throwing furniture and even throwing a TV out the window, she said.
They separated five years ago but started communicating again last spring, Eagles said.
“She asked Caleb, ‘Caleb, do you want us to try it again? It’s all what you say, if I try to be with your daddy and make a family again,’ ” Eagles said.
In the early hours of Oct. 7, police in Gwinnett County, Ga., received a call about a woman found dead in a home in Peachtree Corners, about 20 miles northeast of Atlanta. The male caller “stated that his wife was dead, and then hung up the phone,” a police report states.
Maisonet’s body was found in the kitchen, with multiple stab wounds. Maisonet-Polanco was captured hours later in Alabama and charged with felony murder and aggravated assault, police said.
Caleb was in the home when his mother was killed, according to the report. Eagles said Maisonet-Polanco took Caleb to his parents’ home before fleeing to Alabama.
Raising a grandson
Until her daughter’s killing, Eagles lived in Myrtle Beach with her fiancee.
“It wasn’t a choice,” Eagles said of the decision to take in her grandson and raise him.
To keep Caleb in the school he was familiar with and maintain some sense of normalcy, they moved into Maisonet’s Columbia home, which was left vacant when she moved to Peachtree Corners. Caleb attended school in Georgia for the three months they lived there, but has since returned to Caughman Road Elementary School.
This isn’t the first time Eagles has dealt with the pain of losing a child. One of her sons was killed in a car crash in 2003, and another son died of a heart attack in 2013. After struggling with anxiety and depression, Eagles said, she semi-retired from her job as a nurse.
“My baby (son) is in his 30s,” she said. “And I have to go back to a 9-year-old and raise him. It’s not easy.”
Columbia attorney Leslie Peters, of the Law Office of Brian L. Boger, said many employees at their firm knew Maisonet. After seeing a GoFundMe page set up for Maisonet’s son and mother by Maisonet’s best friend, the office employees decided to start gathering items to donate.
“While it’s great for Caleb to be living with his grandmother, this is obviously a situation that no grandmother expects to be faced with,” Peters said. “It creates an extreme financial burden. No one should ever have to lose a child, much less three out of four.”
‘I know there’s angels’
The effort gained traction when Peters posted a link to the GoFundMe account on the Facebook page for her Rosewood neighborhood.
In the past week, people have donated a Christmas tree with lights and ornaments, presents for Caleb, clothes and financial support, Peters said.
Renee Joye, 54, of Columbia, is friends with Eagles and has known Maisonet for about eight years. She started the GoFundMe page to help ease the costs of Maisonet’s funeral and other expenses for Eagles.
“Tanya was like a niece to me,” she said. “Caleb is definitely my nephew.”
Joye was at the home when the Christmas tree and trimmings were delivered.
“It was refreshing to see how excited he was to have something else to focus on,” she said of Caleb. “That gives me hope and my affirmation for my faith. All we hear about is the bad that people do, but there's so much good here. And it's shown through the deeds and actions of these kind strangers.”
The family still needs basic items for Caleb, like clothes, school supplies and a bed to replace the twin bed he has nearly outgrown. For Christmas, the 9-year-old said he wants Xbox video games, and his favorite superhero is Batman.
As Eagles sits in the living room of her late daughter’s home, the colored lights on the donated artificial tree reflect in the tears building in her eyes as she thinks about the acts of kindness others have shown her family.
“Love heals the bad feelings of things,” she said. “It makes me feel like Tanya’s in heaven saying, ‘Mom, I had to leave you and Caleb. But there’s so many loved ones that’s still there for you when I can’t be there. I know there’s angels there to look out for you guys, even though I wasn’t able to be present this time.’”