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Tragedy Casting a Perpetual Shadow over 10 Christmases

Christmas is typically known as “the most wonderful time of the year,” and for a good reason. This holiday season allows us to not only spend time with family, friends, and those dearest to us, but it also provides an opportunity to spread love and kindness as we celebrate our religious beliefs, participate in cultural traditions, and reflect on what is truly important in life.

Christmas is also known as a season of giving, whether that be giving gifts to your children, spouse, or family or, instead, giving financially to charities and organizations that help those less fortunate.

However, in these stories, what should have been a celebratory season quickly turned into a season of unexpected mourning and tragedy, ultimately leaving families torn apart, grief-stricken, and unable to look at the Christmas holiday the same way ever again.

Here are ten Christmases that will unfortunately forever be overshadowed by tragedy.

10 Children Made to Open Christmas Gifts in Front of Dead Mother

Twenty-six-year-old Za’Zell Preston of Anaheim, California, was taking classes at Cyprus College in hopes of becoming a domestic violence counselor. Unfortunately, Preston’s “kind, forgiving, and compassionate” demeanor caused her to become trapped in a marriage where she herself suffered years of violence at the hands of her husband, William Wallace.

In 2008, Wallace pleaded guilty to beating Preston and threatening to kill her and served 18 days in jail. Wallace was later placed under a restraining order but eventually persuaded Preston to get back together with him. Wallace continued with his threats to kill Preston for the next three years, and sadly, during Christmas of 2011, he followed through with that promise.

Wallace and Preston lived in an apartment with their seven-week-old son and Preston’s three- and eight-year-old daughters from a previous relationship. On December 24, 2011, the couple went to a neighbor’s Christmas Eve party, but when they returned home, an argument ensued, and the confrontation quickly turned violent.

Preston’s eldest daughter later testified that Wallace pushed her mother into a glass table. Then, Wallace asked her to help pull the pieces of glass from her mother’s body. Wallace then attempted to clean Preston up in the bathroom but dropped her and knocked her head into the side of the toilet seat. Wallace then took Preston into a bedroom but never called for help. Around 1 am, Preston died as a result of her injuries.

However, on Christmas Day, Wallace placed Preston on the couch with sunglasses on and videotaped the children opening Christmas presents in front of her body. He then told the children, “Mommy ruined Christmas; she got drunk and ruined Christmas.”

It wasn’t until approximately 9:30 am on Christmas Day that Wallace called 911, reporting that his wife was in need of medical attention. When paramedics arrived, Preston was found unresponsive, but given that there was no blood or evidence of her beating, they attempted to perform CPR. Preston was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Wallace was arrested the same day but claimed that Preston bit and hit him and that while he was defending himself, she fell onto the table. His attorney also later argued that Preston’s death was a result of her drunkenly tripping and falling down more than once. It wasn’t until April 7, 2021, that Wallace, now 39 years old, was convicted of second-degree murder. On June 4, 2021, he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison but was given credit for the nine years he had already spent behind bars.[1]

9 Christmas Day Lunch Leads to Fatal Case of Food Poisoning

Forty-six-year-old Della Callagher fell ill on the evening of December 25, 2012, after eating a four-course turkey meal during a Christmas Day pub lunch at The Railway Hotel in Hornchurch, east London. Callagher was one of seven people within their party of 16 who became sick after eating the turkey, but while the others recovered, Callagher’s condition continued to deteriorate.

On December 26, 2012—Boxing Day—Callgher’s husband, 51-year-old John Callgher, took her to Queen’s Hospital in Romford, where she was examined in an ambulance. John stated that Callagher was given an injection but that no blood test was done, and she was instructed to go home and lie down.

Unfortunately, Callagher suffered cardiac arrest at home later that day, so John called an ambulance but stated by that time, Callagher “barely had a pulse.” Sadly, she died at the hospital on December 27, 2012, leaving behind her husband and a 14-year-old daughter.

Callagher’s family went on to file civil claims for negligence against Mitchells & Butlers, the chain which owns The Railway Hotel. However, as a total of 33 people fell ill, a major investigation was also launched into the matter by police and health safety authorities. During the investigation, it was discovered that Callagher’s death was a result of Clostridium perfringens bacteria—a common cause of food poisoning> The turkeys were prepared on Christmas Eve but were not cooled properly after cooking, and were not adequately reheated before being served to guests.

It was also later discovered that the pub’s chef, 37-year-old Mehmet Kaya, and the pub manager, 40-year-old Anne-Marie McSweeney, falsified records in an attempt to cover up the fact that the turkey meat had been fatally undercooked.

Both Kaya and McSweeney were found guilty of perverting the course of justice. On January 23, 2015, Kaya was sentenced to a year in prison, and McSweeney was sentenced to 18 months. The pub chain Mitchells & Butlers was also fined $1.9 million (£1.5 million) after being found guilty of selling unsafe food.[2]

8 Father Drowned While Trying out Family’s Surprise Christmas Present

Around 7 am on Christmas morning of 2022, 37-year-old Varun Chand of New Zealand went to collect a yellow two-seater canoe he had bought on Facebook Marketplace as a “surprise gift” for his family. Chand returned later that morning and eventually took his two youngest children—ages seven and 12—to try the canoe out on Lake Rua, a man-made freshwater lake at Roto Kohatu Reserve on the outskirts of McLeans Island in Harewood, Christchurch.

Chand and his seven-year-old daughter were initially facing each other in the canoe but later moved to get more comfortable. Unfortunately, in doing so, the young girl’s leg became trapped under Chand’s, and when she tried to wiggle free, the vessel overturned.

After the canoe tipped over, Chand held onto the two-seater craft while his daughter, who was thankfully wearing a life vest, swam and called for help. Chand’s daughter was eventually spotted and rescued, but unfortunately, Chand went under the water and did not resurface. Sadly, Chand was also not wearing a life jacket. His body was recovered on Boxing Day, 22 feet (7 meters) underwater.

Not only did Chand leave behind his wife of 14 years, Sheron Shoma Dutt, and their three children, but Chand’s younger brother, Visal, stated that the yellow canoe would serve as a symbol of another heartbreaking loss. The family had gone that Christmas morning to visit the grave of their other brother, 33-year-old Avinash, who was killed in a car crash in June 2021.[3]

7 Mother and Daughter Found Dead When Family Arrived for Christmas Dinner

Margaret Shively had planned to go to her mother’s—57-year-old Elaine Fizer—home in Detroit, Michigan, on Christmas morning in 2021 to help with dinner. However, after calling her mother over and over and getting no response, Shively and her family decided to go to Fizer’s home to see what was going on.

When they arrived, Fizer didn’t answer the door, so the family decided to look through a window. It was then that they saw what appeared to be a body on the floor.

The family called the police, and Shively’s husband forced his way into the home but made a tragic discovery—Fizer and her 13-year-old adopted daughter, Daunya Fields, who was non-verbal and in a wheelchair, had been shot inside the home. Police later stated that the shooting had occurred at 5:45 am that morning and that Fizer’s husband, 62-year-old Dwayne McDonald, was a person of interest after fleeing the scene.

On December 28, 2021, police received information that McDonald was hiding in an apartment building with two men he knew. Police then obtained a search warrant, but upon entering the building, they were greeted by McDonald, who was armed. A shot was then fired, causing officers to return fire, killing McDonald at the scene.[4]

6 Freak Accident on Christmas Eve Claims the Life of a Little Girl

Christmas Eve of 2008 had been a fun day for the Hughes family—visiting friends, shopping, and even purchasing a new television to replace the old one kept in the first-floor living room of their Coedpoeth, Wrexham home.

After returning home, Robert Hughes installed the new television. Then, he decided to move the old “heavy, deep, bulky” widescreen television downstairs into the children’s play area.

Hughes’s daughter, four-year-old Emily, liked to take the Nintendo DS game console she shared with her siblings to a quiet place in order to play it alone. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to her father, Emily was lying on her stomach at the foot of the stairs, and as Hughes staggered down carrying the old TV set, he tripped over Emily and dropped the television on her head, pinning her down.

Hughes immediately got the TV off of Emily and carried her into the kitchen, where his wife, Louise Sandra Hughes, called for an ambulance. Mr. and Mrs. Hughes attempted to resuscitate Emily until paramedics arrived, but she never regained consciousness.

Emily was rushed to the Wrexham Maelor Hospital and later transferred to Liverpool’s Alder Hey Hospital due to a lack of oxygen and blood to her brain. Tragically, the accident fractured Emily’s skull, and the brain damage she sustained stopped both her pulse and blood pressure. She was pronounced dead at 10:10 pm on Christmas Day.[5]

5 Christmas Eve Cold Case Still Unsolved

When Sophia Ulloa got pregnant at 16 years old, her mother, Tina Mendoza, naturally worried that her daughter wouldn’t finish high school. However, Mendoza stated, “Boy, did that girl prove me wrong,” as Ulloa went on to maintain good grades, hold down a job, graduate, and take care of her baby.

By the year 2000, 20-year-old Ulloa and her four-year-old daughter Jasmine had moved back in with Mendoza in her Stockton, California, home. Sadly, what was supposed to be the best Christmas ever turned into the worst… and would tear their family apart.

On Christmas Eve of 2000, Ulloa decided to do some last-minute Christmas shopping in search of the perfect Christmas gift for Jasmine—a new scooter. While Ulloa went shopping, Mendoza went to bed. However, just after midnight on December 24, 2000, Mendoza heard loud screams from outside that woke her up.

Mendoza ran outside to find Ulloa standing behind her car, holding her side and saying, “Go get him; I’ve been stabbed.” Rather than running toward Ulloa, Mendoza went back into the house to call 911.

When detectives arrived, they found Ulloa lying next to her car, which was full of Christmas presents for her daughter. Stockton police began their search for a suspect, but the only clue they had was that a light-colored Ford Thunderbird or Mercury Cougar was seen leaving the area at the time of the murder. Sadly, Ulloa, their only witness, was pronounced dead just after 1 am after being rushed to the hospital.

Ulloa’s best friend at the time, Lisa Orosco, later claimed that “The night before, someone called her [Ulloa] and said that someone would kill her.” However, Ed Rodriguez, one of the lead detectives with the Stockton Police Department, stated he was never given any information about the phone call Orosco claimed Ulloa received.

In 2001, Rodriguez, in conjunction with the California State Governor’s Office, established a $50,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest and conviction in Ulloa’s case. Unfortunately, while countless people have been interviewed and re-interviewed, no suspect has ever been named. Ulloa’s daughter, Jasmine, is now grown with a baby of her own, but every Christmas Eve is a tragic reminder of Ulloa’s death and a case that remains unsolved.[6]

4 Forgotten Nut Allergy Causes Fatal Allergic Reaction to Christmas Dinner

Twelve-year-old Cason Hallwood of Winsford, Cheshire, suffered from asthma and had a nut allergy. Due to his asthma, Hallwood often spent Christmas in the hospital. However, Christmas of 2020 was the one year Hallwood didn’t spend the holiday in the hospital, so naturally, the youngster woke up very excited Christmas morning in anticipation of opening gifts.

Hallwood spent the day at home with his mother, Louise, and his three brothers—18-year-old twins Cowen and Corley and 13-year-old Caiden—before going to his grandparents’ house for dinner, where he “licked his plate clean.” After eating, Hallwood went to the Wharton Recreation Park with some of his friends.

Approximately twenty minutes later, Hallwood called his mother to ask if she could send one of his brothers to the park to bring his inhaler. One of Hallwood’s twin brothers took the inhaler and reported that Hallwood seemed fine. However, when Louise received a second phone call from her son, she could tell the inhaler hadn’t worked.

At that point, Louise ran to the park with an EpiPen that had been kept at Hallwood’s grandparents’ house, but unfortunately, it had expired. When Louise got to the park, Hallwood’s eyes were puffy, signaling an allergic reaction, but the EpiPen injection made no difference in his condition.

Louise called for an ambulance, and Hallwood was rushed to Leighton Hospital in Crewe. Unfortunately, he died a short time later as a result of anaphylactic fatal asthma that was caused by peanut ingestion with bilateral pneumonia (collapsed lungs) as a contributing factor.

In a heartbreaking turn of events, it was later discovered that Hallwood’s grandfather, Albert, had prepped a beef joint and a gammon joint for Christmas dinner the night before but had forgotten about Hallwood’s nut allergy. He used a gammon glaze that had nuts in it.[7]

3 Postpartum Depression Leads to Christmas Suicide

Twenty-eight-year-old Cody Hettich of Spencer Township, Michigan, described his wife, 27-year-old Sash Hettich, as a “ridiculously smart” woman, “a fantastic mom,” and “a great wife.” Sasha loved cooking, canning vegetables, and baking, enjoyed gatherings with friends, and even made sure to put extra time into doing things for her children.

Sasha began to struggle with postpartum depression after the birth of their daughter, but thankfully, she received treatment and recovered. Unfortunately, Sasha again began struggling a few months before the birth of their son in July 2015. Despite counseling and therapy through a support group, her mental health never recovered.

On Christmas Day in 2015, Sasha told Cody that she and their three-year-old daughter and five-month-old son were going to Starbucks. Cody stayed behind to clean up at home. However, Sasha was gone much longer than expected, and Cody reported her missing later that night.

Sadly, around 10:30 am on December 26, 2015, Sasha was found in a remote area, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Their daughter was snuggled up against Sasha’s body, and their infant son was found strapped inside her vehicle, shivering. Both children were treated for hypothermia, and by December 29, 2015, they were back at home and doing well.

Although Cody stated, “This isn’t something that a healthy Sasha would have done,” he never could have anticipated her tragic, untimely death or just how serious her thoughts had become.[8]

2 Teenager Found Dead after Going to Wrap Christmas Presents

Lauren Cayford of Brynmawr, Wales, was diagnosed with severe epilepsy at the age of 14. Despite her condition, the 19-year-old dedicated her life to helping others—volunteering with her local St. John Ambulance group, church, youth club, and food bank.

On Christmas Eve of 2018, the family shared a meal of Chinese food, which was Cayford’s favorite. Afterward, Cayford went upstairs to her bedroom to finish wrapping Christmas presents. Approximately 20 minutes later, Cayford’s father, Robert, went upstairs but found his daughter face down on her bed, not breathing.

Robert began performing CPR while Cayford’s mother, Del, called for an ambulance. Robert continued performing CPR, and when the paramedics arrived, they were able to resuscitate Cayford. Unfortunately, when she arrived at Nevill Hall Hospital, it was discovered that Cayford had suffered irreparable brain damage. She died on December 26, 2018, and was laid to rest in one of her Christmas presents—mint green fleece pajamas and fluffy socks.

Despite Cayford’s tragic death, she went on to fulfill her dream of helping others and has saved three lives through organ donation.[9]

1 Christmas Evening Smoke Break Followed by Sudden Heart Attack

Forty-year-old Gareth Blenkins of Armley, Leeds, was described as someone strong, protective, and the type of person who’d do anything for anybody. In fact, if someone was sad, he’d often ask, “Do you need a Blenkins cuddle?” Sadly, this loving father tragically died on Christmas Day in 2022 after suffering a heart attack.

Blenkins was enjoying the holiday with his family in Cottingley. As the evening began to wind down, Blenkins decided to go outside for a cigarette. All seemed well as Blenkins returned inside “laughing and joking,” but all of a sudden, he “clutched his chest, fell to the floor, and began having a fit.”

Blenkins was rushed to the hospital, but given that his brain went for too long without oxygen, he did not survive. Blenkins left behind a 15-year-old son who he “lived for.”[10]

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Written by Julie Henthorn

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