How I Told My Grandson That My Son-in-Law Killed His Mother
A woman's struggle to raise a boy following the unthinkable.
Illustration by Dola Sun
This story was published in collaboration with the Marshall Project.
On the evening of June 18, 2002, in the quiet town of Mt. Shasta, California, a man named Gabriel John Pippin waited outside the home of his ex-girlfriend, Sacha Ann Marino. Their infant son, Caleb, was also inside, along with Marino's grandparents and sister.
When Marino and her new boyfriend walked out the front door, Pippin shot them both at point-blank range and continued shooting as he came into the house.
Pippin is now serving life in prison for the double murder at the Sierra Conservation Center, a low- to medium-security facility where inmates are trained to fight California's wildfires.
Meanwhile, Sacha Marino's mother, Lisa, has been raising Caleb, who is now 15. They have since moved to Oregon, and the boy's way of understanding that he is the son of a murderer, but also of the murderer's victim, has changed over the years.
Below, in her own words, Lisa Marino describes what it's like to raise her murdered daughter's son—and why she believes that people like Pippin do not deserve a second chance.
When he was little, I always told Caleb simply that his momma was dead. I'd take him out to the cemetery, in Mt. Shasta—the town that before all of this I thought was beautiful, perched on a mountain; we'd moved there from LA to get away from the crime—to see her grave. He would play next to her headstone, stare at the picture of her that was on it.
Then he got a bit older, and he'd sit down and talk to her gravestone, sit on my lap, kiss her picture. He would always say, in the same way, There was a bad man who killed my mom and dad.
But it embarrasses Caleb now to go there and talk to her. We don't go much anyway because we had to move away from that place, an hour and a half away to Oregon. (When someone says, Where are you from? I feel like I can't answer.)
At age four, the victim's advocates interviewed Caleb on camera for their "impact statement," asking what he would like to happen to the bad man.
I thought maybe when he got older, we could send it to the bad man. To me, it would feel so good to say, I hate you, I hate you.
Caleb went into counseling—"play therapy," it was called. They had him bring in some pictures of people who love him, and some who don't. At one point, I'd showed him a picture from the newspaper of the bad man (I'd gotten rid of all the other pictures), and he brought it into therapy to crumple up and destroy.
They told me that when Caleb turned seven, he would start asking real questions. And sure enough, three years later, he said, "Mom (that's what he's always called me), who killed my mom?"
I'd always told him the truth, but he didn't know what biological parents were, so I had to explain: It was your biological father, the man who was there with your momma when you were made.
It was devastating, the look on his face. He could kind of understand that I was talking about his real dad. And he asked, "Did he love me?"
What could I tell him, the story? That his momma had had no contact with his biological daddy for awhile and was dating other people?
And that his dad, Gabriel, had found out about this, and called her constantly, for months, asking, "Who are you seeing, tell me right now!" And that she said, "Leave me alone, we're moving on."
Or should I tell Caleb that his mom got a restraining order, but it did no good?
Our whole family was home, my other daughter back from college, and everyone was putting a puzzle together, on a weeknight. My dad was watching TV in the back room, and my mom was asleep, and my daughter's new boyfriend was about to go home because he had work the next day.
My daughter put baby Caleb down on the floor to crawl around, because she was going to walk her boyfriend out.
But Gabriel was waiting out in the street.
From inside, my other daughter could hear the pops. She walked into the living room, picked up the baby, opened the door.
She saw that her sister and her sister's boyfriend were running back into the house, and Gabriel was shooting at them from behind.
He shot them both in the back as they tried to get back in, and my other daughter saw him with the gun staring at them, not crazed, just angry, she said. And she ran back inside with baby, thinking, He's going to kill us all, and was trying to keep the baby from crying.
They climbed into the bathtub. My mom was calling 911, and my dad was trying to get his gun, but he couldn't load it, so instead he called me, and said in a monotone voice, "He's killing them, he's killing them," and I could hear screaming in the background—I guess it was my other daughter, screaming like you could never imagine. She didn't even realize she was screaming.
He shot Caleb's mother two times in the face while she was lying down, and her boyfriend twice in the back of the head after he was already dead. My living daughter saw her sister's brains coming out.
This man had looked at his own baby, and after that had shot the baby's mother twice in the face.
Should I have told Caleb that?
At ten, Caleb totally lost it, kicked walls, screamed. If anyone was in his life but then wasn't anymore, he would take it so hard. We had some good friends who took care of him, and they ended up moving away; we also lost our dog. When they left and when that dog died, he cried for weeks straight, saying, "Why did she have to die?"
When my son (Caleb's uncle) moved to Alaska, which he said was best for his career, Caleb took that extremely hard, too. He started saying things like, "I really want to be with my momma, I don't want to be here." It was suicide talk—but in the way a ten-year-old would do it.
He knows his own father would have shot him, a baby in the first months of his life, that night, and it would have meant nothing.
So I stay up to date on where Gabriel is, and express my opinions about him to the people who have him in custody.
This destroyed my family. It has definitely destroyed me.
How much suffering we do, people don't realize that. Sure, there shouldn't be 700 people on death row in California. But there should be a few, and they should be like Gabriel, and the state should follow through with it.