It was a night, wrapped in a nightmare, that the people of Clinton, Illinois will never forget.
The evening of September 3, 2003 ended as it had begun: a quiet end-of-summer day, marked by the start of a new school year and weather warm enough to lure kids and their families outdoors. The children of Amanda Hamm were no exception.
Twenty years have passed since the frantic 911 call came into the DeWitt County dispatch center with a plea for help: three children were in the backseat of their mother’s car, drowning.
Crews were on the scene at Clinton Lake within five minutes to pull the children from the car as it sat in the murky waters of Clinton Lake. The two boys—6-year-old Christopher and 4-year-old Austin would die a short while later at the local hospital. Their sister Kyleigh, still a toddler, would be airlifted to a Peoria hospital where efforts to save her would also fail.
The outsized tragedy was a tsunami of pain and sadness for the community. Wave after wave battered those who knew Amanda Hamm, her children, and her family. The fathers of the children and their loved ones were swept away in grief and sadness, too.
The three months it took police to investigate before murder charges were filed against Amanda and her boyfriend Maurice LaGrone kept people on edge as they waited for answers that would not be fully disclosed for three years. People wondered: Was this an accident or a conspiracy by Amanda and Maurice to eliminate the three youngsters?
Two teams of defense lawyers worked on the separate murder cases. A special prosecutor teamed up with a lawyer from the Office of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor to handle the investigation and trials. Dozens of local and state police logged thousands of hours on the case that ended with verdicts three years later in two courtrooms.
Maurice was sentenced to life in prison on murder charges in the spring of 2006. Six months later, a jury rejected murder charges against Amanada and found her guilty of child endangerment. She was sentenced to ten years and with credit for time served, she was behind bars for five years.
Amanda and Maurice have steadfastly maintained their innocence of the murder accusations.
The state became involved in Amanda’s life once more in 2014 when child welfare officials learned of the birth of her third child since her marriage to a Chicago man. The deaths of her first three children served as the basis for the removal of the next three from her custody. The court awarded visitation.
In 2018, the three fathers of the children lost at the lake gathered at their children’s graves on the north edge of town. Now middle-aged men, they shared their common grief and how their lives had changed. Since then, Kyleigh’s father has died.
Much like the person who survives a horrific accident and lives to talk about the experience, the town has survived the tragedy at Clinton Lake. But lingering alongside the efforts to heal are the memories of what transpired. First responders and every person who knew Christopher, Austin and Kyleigh or their families recall where they were when they first heard the news. And they will not forget how their lives were changed by one fateful night.