Christian Nielsen was 6 years old when a Rumford district court judge ruled he would live with his father, not his mother.

The decision, in 1982 by Judge John Batherson, came two years after Charles and Patricia (Kenyon) Nielsen divorced.

“Court finds that the behavior of the mother has not been consistent with the sort of emotional stability that is most valuable to young, impressionable children,” Batherson wrote in his findings of fact.

Twenty-four years later, Charles Nielsen would again be called to his son’s side, but this time there would be little the popular Dirigo High School English teacher could do except issue a public apology for the gruesome quadruple killings his son stands accused of.

“We realize that the ripples of horror, disbelief and pain were instantaneous and far-reaching. The event tore a hole in the community. Our joys and our serenity came to an abrupt halt,” Charles Nielsen read from a prepared statement two weeks ago and three days after the killings.

According to police, Christian Nielsen shot four people, dismembered three of their bodies and burned and buried the other.

Killed were James Whitehurst, 50, of Batesville, Ark.; Julie Bullard, 65, and her daughter, Selby Bullard, 30, both of Newry; and Cindy Beatson, 43, of Bethel.

Beatson’s family and friends will celebrate her life and mourn her death at her funeral in Bethel today.

Much of Charles Nielsen’s 1982 case to get full custody of his two children – son Christian and daughter, Petrine, then 4 – rested on an unstable home life and his ex-wife’s relationship with Michael Lewit, a review of court records in the state archive show.

Lewit, 25 at the time, had been in and out of trouble with the law, including serving time at the state prison in Windham for burglary, theft and receiving stolen property.

“The behavior of the children has undergone changes not viewed as positive, including uncontrolled urinating, excessive belligerence and unusual nervousness,” Batherson wrote.

Patricia Kenyon would go on to marry Lewit and later divorce him.

“I lost joint custody of my kids in 1981 because of Mike Lewit’s criminal record,” Kenyon wrote in a letter to then-Superior Court Justice Ellen Gorman in 1997, in which she apologized for not showing up for a court hearing on the divorce from Lewit.

Court records indicate Christian Nielsen’s childhood was punctuated by on-going custody struggles between his parents and a series of divorces.

Charles Nielsen divorced his second wife, Carol, in 1993 two years before his son graduated from Mt. Blue High School in Farmington. Based on court records, that divorce was legally uncomplicated and did not involve any custody disputes.

Carol Nielsen was also a key figure in the 1982 custody case, and files show a psychologist recommended Christian and his sister be returned to their father’s custody, in part because of that marriage.

“The couple appeared, in my opinion, to have a healthy, stable marriage,” wrote Berwyn D. Wetter, a psychologist in Norway at the time. “Mrs. Nielsen presented as being fully aware and fully supportive of Mr. Nielsen’s desire to gain custody of his children. Also she was very positive and realistic in her perceptions of assuming a parenting role with the children, in part as this would fulfill her own desire to continue in such a role.”

It would be Charles Nielsen’s third wife and Christian’s second stepmother, Lee Graham, who would call Maine State Police on Sept. 4 to report Christian had told his father he had killed four people, according to a police affidavit.

Now, another district court judge, Justice Robert Crowley, sits poised to decide whether mental health professionals should be allowed to examine Christian Nielsen’s state of mind.

State prosecutors have asked for that review but Nielsen’s attorneys have said they oppose it.

If Crowley orders the exam, mental health professionals will try to determine if Nielsen, now 31, is competent to stand trial, whether he was suffering from any mental illness at the time of the killings and whether he meets the state’s legal definition for being insane, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson said Friday.

It’s likely Nielsen’s family history and his life as a child would be a part of that review.

Meanwhile, his friends, former co-workers, neighbors, classmates and others have said Nielsen, for the most part, seemed to be a typical child, teenager and young adult. “He just appeared to be a normal kid,” Robin Zinchuk, the executive director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, told the Sun Journal a day after Nielsen was arrested. She was Christian’s church youth group counselor at one time and asked how, “a cute little blond-headed kid turned murderer?”

Staff writer Jessica Alaimo contributed to this report.

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