Saturday, October 04, 2008


On August 7, 2008 Brian Dale Dykstra, 31,was charged with 2nd degree murder in the 2005 death of his adopted Russian son Isaac Jonathan Dykstra (originao name Ilya Karguntsev, , 21 months old. Dykstra surrendered to Johnson County, Iowa authorities on August 8 and was released on $15,000 bond. He submitted a written plea of Not Guilty on October 2 in Johnson County District Court. Dykstra currently lives in South Carolina where his wife, Dr. Lisa Dykstra, is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at Clemson University. She was not at home at the time of the alleged beating and has not been charged. I have been unable to find the employment status of Brian Dykstra (but he is not the actor/comedian/playright of the same name).

Isaac was born November 18, 2003 either in  Krasnoyarsk or Sosnovoborsk and adopted from an orphanage located in the latter..

An Iowa City Police Department press release says that on August 13, 2005 officers were sent to Dykstra's home after receiving an abandoned 911 call from that address. On callback, Dykstra told the dispatcher that Iyla was having a 'little seizure" and difficulty breathing from what "might be related to a head injury." Responding units from the Iowa City Police, Iowa City Fire Department, and Johnson County Ambulance Service found the baby on the living room floor unconscious, with labored breathing and obvious head injuries. Isaac was transported to the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics Emergency Treatment Center for what police describe as massive brain swelling, severe bleeding inside the skull, and retinal swelling in both eyes. He also had severe bruising on his torso and legs. Doctors said the injuries happened earlier in the day and were inconsistent with Brian Dykstra's explanations. Isaac underwent emergency brain surgery and never regained consciousness. He was declared brain dead on August 14.

Ilya reportedly lived with the Dykstras for three months. So far, I've been unable to learn details of the adoption. According to Luke Haverhals, a friend of the couple, writing in the Cedar Rapids Gazette Online (August 10, 2008), Ilya had recently been treated for club foot at University Hospitals. Haverhals claims that after the removal of the cast, just days before his death, Ilya:

...and was able, as a year and a half year old, to walk normally for the first time (to the delight of his adoring parent). Literally, a few days after getting his cast off, Issac fell down hard (mind you he had not learned to fall like other kids his age) and hit his head on the floor one night playing at home. He cried, got over it, and started playing again. Brian and Lisa being worried first time parents called the hospital (Mercy on Call) to see if they should bring him in, but Isaac had quit crying and was back playing like millions of other kids who fall down, cry about it, and then get over it.

Haverhals blames Dykstra's arrest on the "'opinion' of a well-intentioned, but misinformed and ignorant/incompetent doctor" and calls for the firing of "the unjust "fraudulent, pathetic, backhanded and outright incompetent investigators."

Another Dykstra friend, John Johnson, describing Dykstra as a "christian, really mellow person," complains in the same section, "it's pathetic how media paints a terrible picture of a great guy just to create a story."

The Dykstras supported Habitat for Humanity and were active members of the New Life Community Church (Reformed Church of America) in Coralville. According to Luke Haverhals, on August 13 Lisa had left for a church consistery retreat and Brian was doing dishes when he heard a thump in the living room and found the baby on the floor.

Lisa Dykstra received her doctorate in Second Language Acquisition with an emphasis in linguistics from the University of Iowa in Spring 2006. She dedicated her dissertation to Isaac.


The injuries to Ilya described by police are consistent with shaken baby syndrome, not a fall on the floor. Like several other dead Russian adoptees, he had lived with his Forever Family a short amount of time and was left home alone with one parent. Little explanation has been given as to why it took police three years to file charges. Luke Haverhals claims that authorities considered Dykstra a suspect from Day One, twisted testimony from friends, and taken statements out of context to "fit their preconceived notions of the case." Despite Haverhals claim, it appears that the police carefully constructed their case. 39 witnesses, including 6 police and 9 doctors are expected to testify for the state. This length in prosecution is not without precedent. Logan Higginbotham was killed in 1998, but her mother, Laura, wasn't prosecuted and convicted until 2004.

NOTE: Ilya has been added to the Forever Family--Forever Dead memorial page at the bottom of this blog.

Thanks to E Case.


Troy Vander Molen said...

Thanks for memorializing Isaac. I too know the Dykstra family well, and I know that they miss him more than words can express.

I completely concur with most of Luke Haverhals' comments that you referenced, and I trust that Brian will be found not guilty of all accusations. Brian is a wonderful person, and I cannot imagine the weight of this situation on his heart. This couple is amazing. Despite the circumstances, I'm sure Brian and Lisa are glad that the memory of their beloved son Isaac is being preserved.

P.S. Please consider changing the headline of your story to something that would honor the memory of the life of Isaac, not just his death.

Anonymous said...

You know I think it is good to remember - but I don't think you should insinuate that Mr. Dykstra was at fault.
Innocent until proven guilty is a guideline you too should follow.
The reason Mr. Dykstra was charged at this point, three years after the fact, was, that the deadline for filing charges was about to expire. Had the police had a sure case, they would surely have pressed charges earlier.
I know they loved Isaac and had waited for a long time to be able to welcome a child into their family. I do not believe they would have jeopardized that in any way.

Anonymous said...

I admit that I do not know much about the facts of the case other than what has been reported. I know the family, though am not a close friend. I have only known Brian to be a soft spoken and gentle man, despite his outward appearance. I also know how absolutely thrilled they both were to have Isaac in their lives. The couple had tried unsuccessfully to have a natural child for years. They also waited for a long time before adopting the child from Russia. Lisa had lived in Russia and is fluent in the language and culture. When word arrived they had been approved for the adoption the couple was very excited. I just have a hard time believing that either Brian or Lisa could be responsible for intentionally causing the child harm.

Anonymous said...

I am a relative of Lisa Dykstra and have known Brian Dykstra for years. I can honestly say that I do not believe he is capable of doing something like this. Throughout this entire process his wife, her family, and the entire extended family has stuck by him and will continue to do so. If you ever saw Brian with this little boy you would know he did not do this and that he was everything to both he and Lisa.

Subsequent medical testing and research on Isaac's medical records from Russia has shown that he had previous neurological issues and this is far from an open and shut case. If it was, Brian would already be in prison.

I can only hope the charges are dropped, as they should be, so that Brian and Lisa can try to move forward with their lives.

Robin said...

If these were natural parents, you guys would be villifying them to the heavens. But, for some reason, adopters always get more than the benefit of the doubt.

The number of Russian children adopted and then "dispatched" is very suspicious. Since most of them are frghtened and don't instantly give with the adoration of those who adopted them, I see a few short fuses have blown.

Poor little fella. He was the innocent one.

Anonymous said...

I, too, know the Dykstras well. Brian has an intimidating physical presence, but his personality could not be more different. I have never seen him behave in anything less than a kind and gentle way. And this includes during times of stress. He is a wonderful husband to Lisa, who is smart as a whip and wants nothing more than to be a mom. And he has been a wonderful friend to me. I was not there the day Isaac died. But know this - neither were you. In the US we are innocent until proven guilty. Brian deserves due process like any US citizen. And you should know that this man is no monster. The fact that so many have taken the time to speak for him here should open your mind to the notion that not everything can be judged by a quick glance.

Anonymous said...

To Robin - in this instance whether Isaac was adopted or not has no bearing on giving a friend "the benefit of the doubt."

You'd think I'd give my friend LESS benefit of the doubt if Lisa had given birth to Isaac?

That makes zero sense.