The parents and a grandmother of Caleb "Kai" Lawrence McGillivary, the 24-year-old drifter arrested in Philadelphia last week in connection with the killing of a 73-year-old North Jersey man, spoke this week of a troubled young man with years of behavioral and mental-health problems, hospital visits, treatment, and possible abuse.
A histrionic, post-hippie hero of sorts, whose colorful account of intervening in an assault on a woman in California turned him into an Internet celebrity four months ago, McGillivary presents himself as a "home-free" sprite.
But his family, in separate interviews with The Inquirer, painted a darker and more complex picture.
Drawing more notice this week are McGillivary's own words. In a now-chilling interview with California radio station KSLG in March that was posted Tuesday as part of a montage on YouTube by a supporter, McGillivary, who last week implied that he was drugged and raped by his alleged victim in New Jersey, says he was raped at 17, felt violated by a defense attorney, and started having fights with people he perceived as bullies.
"I realized I'd never let something like that happen to me again," he said. "I'd rather die than let something like that happen to me again."
In the viral February post that gave him a taste of cyberfame, in which he described hitting an attacker on the head with a hatchet, McGillivary claimed he was from West Virginia and did not have family.
"As far as anybody I grew up with is concerned, I'm already dead," he said.
Now it is known that he is from Canada, where relatives say they care about him.
McGillivary's father, Gil, 57, who is studying to become an aircraft technician and who lives in Ontario, said that from about ages 9 to 18, his eldest son lived at a medical residential facility in Alberta. The website of that facility says its services include providing help to people with mental, behavioral, or psychiatric difficulties. Gil McGillivary said his son told him he suffered physical abuse while there.
"I do believe he has post-traumatic stress," said Gil McGillivary, who described his son as a gifted musician with "a big heart."
He said he and Caleb's mother broke up when the boy was about 4. Both have remarried, and the father has three children from his current marriage.
Gil McGillivary said that he last saw his son during a Christmas visit a couple of years ago, but they had lost touch. He said he e-mailed his son after the famous video on YouTube, glad to see him as a hero. He said he wrote to his son to offer hope that the publicity would help his music career.
He said Caleb posted on Facebook that he wanted nothing to do with his father.
Gil McGillivary said he would like to help his son, but "I'm not a rich man." He said he was trying to stave off eviction but had been having conversations about his son online and was monitoring sites, including one with an online petition seeking his son's release.
Mary Ann McGillivary, 80, Caleb's paternal grandmother, told The Inquirer that her grandson had a rough childhood but was "a very good boy" to her.
"He said, 'When I have the money, I'm going to live with you. I'll get us a place,' " she said.
In an Inquirer interview, Shirley Stromberg, the accused's mother, who lives on a farm in Alberta, expressed concern for her son, saying, "I believe no matter what . . . decisions we make in our lives, we are entitled to dignity."
She said she had never heard that her son was abused in residential treatment. Of his mental or behavioral health, she said, "Caleb has had issues for years."
The day before the young McGillivary met Joseph Galfy, the North Jersey man he is accused of killing, he posted a long message on Facebook alleging parental abuse including forced cold showers, being hit with spoons and sticks, and prolonged timeouts. Most of the accusations were aimed at "a woman, self-declared 'mother,' " but also mention a man's role.
He made similar accusations during his interview with KSLG's John Matthews.
Stromberg, in an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger this week, denied her son's claims and said they were a product of his mood disorders. She also said she had not been in touch with him for some time.
In a separate interview, Ross Stromberg, Shirley Stromberg's husband and a Canadian government employee, said his wife was a good person and mother. He said Caleb was intelligent and creative, and "an important person in our family."
The Union County Prosecutor's Office declined to comment on the relatives' statements. Caleb McGillivary, who is accused of fatally bludgeoning Galfy in his Clark home, is held without bail in Philadelphia, pending extradition to New Jersey.
As of late Wednesday, the online petition seeking freedom for McGillivary had 88 signatures. A site started by another supporter to raise $3 million for his defense claimed to have collected $797.
Hear an interview that Caleb "Kai" Lawrence McGillivary had with California radio station KSLG at www.inquirer.com/kaiEndText