On the viral YouTube video that propelled him to a measure of fame, the disheveled itinerant dubbed “Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker” describes himself as a “home-free” surfer and musician with roots in West Virginia.
“I don’t have any family,” he tells a television reporter after describing how he stopped an attack on a utility worker in Fresno, Calif., by striking the assailant with an ax. “As far as anyone I grew up with is concerned, I’m already dead.”
But 24-year-old Caleb McGillivary, as he is legally known, isn’t from West Virginia. He was born and raised in Canada, where his estranged parents reacted with horror to the allegations their son fatally bludgeoned a 73-year-old New Jersey lawyer, Joseph Galfy, last week.
In their first interviews since McGillivary’s arrest in Philadelphia Thursday night, the parents told The Star-Ledger (New Jersey) their son has long struggled with behavioral problems and spent years in hospitals and treatment homes.
“Caleb had a real tough life,” said Gil McGillivary, 57, a former probation officer who lives in Hawkesbury, Ontario. He and Caleb McGillivary’s mother, Shirley, divorced when their son was 4.
“He was in treatment homes until he turned 18 and then they cut him loose and washed their hands of him,” Gil McGillivary said. “Caleb made accusations that he was physically and mentally abused at one of the homes. The system let my son down.”
The suspect’s mother, who spoke on the condition her last name be withheld, acknowledged her son’s behavior problems but disputed his father’s claim that he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He graduated from high school, Shirley said, and took college classes. As a little boy, she said, he was a “delight.”
She said she hasn’t spoken to her son since last fall. At the time, he was still living in Canada. She said she does not know how or when her son illegally crossed the border to travel around the States.
She wept while watching McGillivary’s notorious television interview, which was uploaded to YouTube in February and swiftly drew several hundred thousand hits. Since the arrest, the number of views has climbed to nearly 4 million.
Shirley, who lives on a farm in St. Paul, Alberta, said her son’s claim his family didn’t care about him isn’t true.
“He has a family that misses him,” she said. “He has a family that loves him. There have been some attempts, but we have no way of contacting him. He knows my number. My number hasn’t changed. If he calls and wants our help, we’re there for him.”
McGillivary has been in a Pennsylvania jail, held without bail, since he was arrested Thursday at a Philadelphia bus station. The Union County Prosecutor’s Office is seeking to extradite him to New Jersey, where he will face murder charges in the death of Galfy, a Clark resident and partner in a Rahway law firm.
The two met by chance in Times Square May 11, then returned to Galfy’s home, Prosecutor Theodore Romankow has said. McGillivary allegedly beat Galfy to death Sunday evening.
Authorities have not released a motive. In a Facebook post, McGillivary claimed he was drugged and sexually assaulted, but did not provide specifics. Romankow has called the comment “self-serving.”
On May 10, McGillivary wrote a disturbing Mother’s Day essay on his Facebook wall in which he alleged that he was beaten by family members from the age of 2 and locked alone in a room for 20 hours a day. When he acted out, according to the essay, he was hit with brooms and pushed into cold showers.
His mother said the claims are untrue and the essay was a manifestation of her son’s mood disorders. She said she did not want to elaborate on the nature of his behavioral health issues.
In a YouTube video posted yesterday by a Kai supporter, there is a montage of archived interview clips in which McGillivary describes his troubled past and states that he was raped at age 17.
(Warning: Disturbing Subject Matters And Accusations)
Meanwhile, a petition called “Free Kai Caleb Lawrence” has been created on Change.org.
“It’s innocent until proven guilty,” Gil McGillivary said about his son. “Where’s the murder weapon? When did it happen? These are the questions that boggle my mind.”
He said he was stunned when he first heard his son’s name in connection with the killing.
“I tried to put Caleb on the straight-and-narrow growing up, but this situation here, I can only tell him I still love him. He’s been wandering around lost because he hasn’t given his life to the Lord.”
Gil McGillivary said that prior to his divorce, he and his son spent time together camping, attending air shows and going for motorcycle rides.
“He loved to play guitar and play the drums at the music stores. He was a really talented musician. That was his dream, I thought, to be a rock star.”
Gil McGillivary lost custody of his son after the divorce. He said the boy spent his teen and preteen years hospitalized for behavioral problems.
He said he last saw his son in December 2010. “He showed up to the door unannounced to spend Christmas with us,” said the father, who is remarried with two daughters and a son.
“When Caleb came over here, he wanted me to run away with him to have some sort of father-son relationship.
“I believe that Caleb didn’t like the fact that I remarried, that I didn’t rescue him from the treatment home, that I have three kids from my present wife,” Gil McGillivary said. “But my children, they love their brother, and they’re shocked at what has happened.”
The father said he last spoke to his son in February after the television interview went viral.
“Caleb didn’t want to have anything to do with me,” he said. “He thought I was trying to get into the public notoriety of his rise to fame because of being his dad. That wasn’t the way it was going to happen, but I respected his wishes because he’s an adult.”