Dateline | January 17, 2014
>> canning: the finger lakes region of upstate new york was karl karlsen ´s family home, and now he was back to stay. here in seneca county , he would rebuild his life among the farms, the fields, the vineyards, and old friends. does everyone in this area know the karlsen family?
>> mike: probably most of seneca county knows one or all of us.
>> canning: karl ´s wife was gone, but he still had his three little kids to think about.
>> mike: he went back to work at the stone quarry for a while and then saw an opportunity at a local glass manufacturing plant that had just opened.
>> canning: was there a lot of concern for karl , having just lost his wife?
>> mike: i think everybody realized that this poor guy isn´t gonna do it on his own.
>> canning: so people helped out. it´s that kind of place. there´s even some hollywood lore. the town of seneca falls is said to be the model for the town of bedford falls . remember the movie where a troubled george bailey discovered that, after all, he really did have a wonderful life ? here in seneca county , karl karlsen was hoping for his own wonderful life . he was surrounded by a big extended family in a place where the karlsen name really meant something, and it all seemed to come together for him when he met cindy best at a line-dancing party in 1992 .
>> cindy: he had told me that he had lost his wife in a fire, and he was a single dad raising three kids on his own.
>> canning: cindy got herself an instant family when she married karl in august of 1993 . they bought a farm soon after that, and between the farm and the glass job, karl was busy. cindy was desperate to have a child of her own, so she and karl went through in vitro fertilization. you were going to have the baby you´d always wanted.
>> cindy: mm-hmm. happiest time of my life . yep.
>> canning: and the big kids were happy, too, when their baby brother , alex, was born.
>> karl: what do you think, levi ?
>> canning: as the years went by, alex says he and his big brother , levi , developed a special bond.
>> alex: he was always there for me. we always loved to hang out together.
>> canning: levi , erin, and katie´s family from california stayed in touch. they even visited. their aunt colette got to know the girls and got a kick out of levi .
>> colette: well, levi had this really quirky little personality. he was a prankster. but he also had my sister´s very sweet spirit.
>> woman: what´s the matter, levi ?
>> canning: but levi ´s life wasn´t easy. he had problems in school, and he and karl began to butt heads.
>> mike: i think levi bucked the system a little bit. he was a typical teenage boy who knew all the answers. but it seemed the more levi struggled in his world, karl held him down rather than try to pick him up.
>> canning: the rift widened, and in may of 2002 , when levi was only 17, he left home. his uncle mike watched it happen with a tinge of sadness.
>> mike: he dropped out of school, which didn´t help things at all. he jumped and didn´t look where he was jumping to, and so he didn´t have a job, and he floated from house to house to different family members.
>> canning: levi eventually met a girl named cassie and was living with her when disaster struck the karlsen family again. it happened in november of 2002 . as cindy remembers it, karl was just coming to bed.
>> cindy: he sat upright and kind of looked out the window and said, you know, "oh, my god. call 911. the barn´s on fire."
>> canning: cindy did call 911 and her brother-in-law. what did karl say to you when you arrived?
>> mike: he mentioned that the horses were still in there.
>> canning: the karlsens had been breeding belgian horses. their loss and the loss of the old barn was devastating to the family. levi exploded. he said some terrible things, and he and karl came to blows.
>> cindy: levi got in his truck to get away from karl , and karl chased after him. i was yelling at karl , you know, "just let him go. leave him alone. let him go."
>> canning: but levi was never able to stay away for long. he and cassie included karl and the rest of the family in their wedding in 2003 . the young couple soon had two daughters, but it may have been too much too fast. the marriage didn´t last.
>> cindy: it was just a bad divorce. neither one of them was nice to each other.
>> canning: but like many kids, levi started to grow up. he got his g.e.d., started working, and tried hard to be a good dad. and perhaps in being a father, his anger with his own father began to soften.
>> mike: i think he had rounded the corner a little bit and could see some sort of a path and a direction for his life.
>> canning: levi had his own place now, but he would drop by the old house to see the family and help karl with some work. on november 20, 2008 , levi came over to work on a truck in cindy and karl ´s new barn. cindy remembers she and karl had just come home from a funeral. they´d been gone for about four hours.
>> cindy: karl told me that he was gonna go out and let levi know we were home and check on him.
>> canning: cindy went into the house. suddenly, karl came rushing out of the barn.
>> cindy: he came banging on the window and the door and telling me to call 911.