Sage Christensen, The Loved One

In 2002, Amherst principal Stephen Myers is accused of making sexual comments to a student, and loses custody of his adopted son. Nine years later, a man named JP Vernazzaro is killed on a Beverly playground. Are the events connected by an awful secret?

Sage Christensen entered the world on January 26, 1993, as Igor Odnohorchenko. He was born in the Ukraine, the youngest of Volodymyr and Olena Odnohorchenko’s five children.

The Ukraine at the time was not easy living. The Soviet Union had collapsed two years before Igor’s birth, disintegrating into 15 chaotic countries. Food shortages were common, and law enforcement was sporadic at best. Inflation was rampant, and the economy got so bad that astrophysicists were making just $3 a month.

Ukrainian court documents state that Igor’s parents were addicted to alcohol. They were also violent. According to accounts Igor would later give, his mother and father would often strike each other and his four older siblings, and they once taped him to a chair and beat him. One time, when Igor tried to defend a sister from his parents, his mother leaned in and bit him on the hand, leaving a permanent scar.

In 1998, when Igor was five, his parents took him to an orphanage, a desolate, concrete Soviet-style building. The caregivers there, according to his later accounts, made switches from tree branches and caned the bottoms of his feet. Once, while Igor was in the infirmary, someone poured scalding-hot water on the backs of his calves, resulting in permanent scars.

Igor had been at the orphanage for two years when a stranger turned up one day in 2000. He was American, a teacher named Stephen Myers, and he was looking for a young boy to adopt. Officials at the orphanage would hardly have been surprised by the sudden appearance of a foreigner like Myers. Owing in part to lax regulation, Eastern Europe at the time was overrun with westerners looking for kids. Between 1990 and 2005, more than 70,000 children from the former Soviet Union were adopted by Americans. Myers chose Igor and brought him to his new home in Denver. The adoption was made official in July 2000.

Myers named his new son Sajan, Hindi for the “loved one.”