ST. ALBANS — Cara Maginn is a St. Albans native. She’s 20 years old and is living with her 47-year-old mother, Sara, in her grandmother’s home in town. For most of her life, Cara has been combatting mental health issues, learning disabilities, weight, uneven parenting, poverty, and a feeling of judgment about her bi-racial identity. More recently, Cara has been dealing with drug and alcohol addiction.

Cara is also the girlfriend of Matthew Gregory. Gregory, 21, is charged with an aggravated assault on 23-year-old Michael Bishop that took place outside of Beverage Mart on Lake Road in St. Albans last Friday. The alleged assault took place after a verbal confrontation, and it sent Bishop to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington for emergency surgery after he had seizures and eventually lost consciousness.

Police were initially unable to find Gregory, but he has since been arrested, arraigned, and is currently held at Northwest State Correctional Facility. Bishop has also been released from the hospital.

Through all of these challenges, Cara said she is trying to earn an online college degree, looking for employment and her own housing. Sitting with her mother, Sara, at her grandmother’s kitchen table on Tuesday, Cara explained that despite the many efforts on her part and her mother’s, becoming a productive, accepted part of the St. Albans community is difficult.

“I’m a class all my own,” she said. “I always knew I was different from other people.”

Cara added that there are other people like her in St. Albans, people like Gregory who can’t seem to meld or function well with the rest of the community due to a number of adversities they’ve experienced in their life. Though these issues are too complicated to be fixed with one solution, Cara said there are ways others can help.

What she and others like her need, Cara said, are compassion, understanding, and support.

Cara’s life

Cara was born in St. Albans in 1993 to Sara Maginn and her then-boyfriend. For the first years of her daughter’s life, Sara was battling alcoholism, a problem that persisted until Cara, at nine years old, told her mother something had to change.

“[She said], ‘Mom, I can’t take this anymore,’” said Sara. Cara gave her two choices: the drinking had to stop, or Cara would go live with her grandmother.

“I knew she meant it,” said Sara. “That was a definite ultimatum.”

Sara wanted to stay with her daughter, and went to rehab, completing it successfully. “I haven’t had a drink in 12 years,” Sara said on Tuesday.

In addition to her mother handling her addiction, Cara’s father wasn’t present for most of her life. When Cara’s father was around, said Sara, he would use drugs and acted abusively toward both Sara and Cara.

“He didn’t want to be responsible for a child,” said Sara. “I had no resources.”

She added, pointing at Cara, “She was a welfare child right until she was 18.”

While challenges persisted at home, Cara also began have issues at school.

“Growing up, I never really understood why I felt the way I felt,” said Cara. In the classroom, Sara said her daughter had trouble focusing, was moody, and got into trouble on a regular basis.

“I remember my 6th grade teacher asking me, ‘What’s wrong with you?’” said Cara. Sara tried various medications for her daughter, but none seemed to help.

“I thought something was wrong with me,” Cara said. She has since learned that she suffers from depression, anxiety and emotional disturbance, in addition to attention deficit disorder (ADD).

“I’ve been through therapy since I was 5 years old,” she added.

Cara attended St. Albans Town Educational Center for all of her elementary and middle school years except for one, when she went to The Baird School in Burlington, a behavioral school, during fourth grade. In high school, Sara moved herself and her daughter in with Cara’s father so that Cara could attend Burlington High School for three and a half years before finishing up her final semester at Bellows Free Academy, St. Albans.

The reason for the move in the middle, said Sara, was to allow Cara to experience school with a more diverse set of students. Cara is biracial – her mother is white and her father is black.

“I’ve always been quite proud of being of two different races,” said Cara. “I always considered myself one of all the kids that I grew up with. I didn’t really notice [any problems] until I got into my teenage years.”

At the end of her time at SATEC, Cara said name-calling began. “For the longest time, people called me ‘burnt marshmallow,” she said, referring to her tightly curled black hair.

In addition to her race, Cara said she was also made fun of for her weight and for the mental health issues she experienced. “You’re a fat, black, crazy person,” said Cara, indicating what people would say to her.

Sara felt BFA was not necessarily the best place for her daughter, where she might be treated differently for her darker skin color or hair. “I just wanted her to enjoy school somehow,” Sara said.

Adulthood, and Gregory

Since graduating from BFA-St. Albans, Cara has continued to work through her struggles, adding alcohol, drug abuse, and several encounters with police into the mix.

“My first time I went to rehab, I was 18 years old,” said Cara. “I went for three days, and then I went home.” Cara has been clean off and on since then, visiting two more rehab facilities in between. While addiction has been one of the problems she’s facing, Cara said community perceptions play a part as well.

“Being around this town – they automatically assume because of your color, you’re either seeing drugs or doing drugs or even thinking about [drugs],” Cara said. She added that when everyone already thinks that, it makes it much easier to give up on trying to stay clean.

In between rehab stints, Cara has also been going to counseling for mental health issues.  “It’s a work in progress,” she said.

About two months ago, Cara began dating Matthew Gregory, someone who, both Cara and Sara said, has been a positive influence. In addition to encouraging Cara to find a job and stop spending time with friends he didn’t feel were healthy for Cara to be around, both women said Gregory’s attention to Cara has helped a great deal.

“Everyone deserves to have someone by their side,” Sara said. She added that Gregory was polite, kind, and pleasant to have around the house with her daughter.

Sara mentioned that Gregory was also dealing with severe mental health issues that included intense mood swings, but Gregory was attending weekly, court-mandated counseling and also finding some ways to cope.

When Gregory would begin to feel a mood swing coming on, Sara said he would leave the house for a walk.

“He would not let it happen here,” said Sara. “He would go somewhere where it couldn’t affect anybody.”

Cara added that she and Gregory were helping each other.

The incident

Last weekend, things went terribly awry when Cara and Gregory walked to Beverage Mart.

Everything began, according to police affidavits, when clerks at Beverage Mart wouldn’t allow Gregory to buy alcohol.  Court documents indicate the store refused to sell Gregory alcohol due to two others – one of whom was Cara – who were waiting across the street that the store clerk knew were under the legal drinking age.

Once Gregory left the store, police reports indicate that he became involved in a verbal confrontation with Bishop, a Beverage Mart employee, who was smoking outside. At some point, Gregory allegedly ran at Bishop from across the road and punched him in the face. Affidavits report that Bishop’s head was knocked into a brick wall, causing him to go into seizures and ultimately lose consciousness.

Police also said that in his audio-recorded interview, Gregory said “that something happened and all he remembers was walking across the street and then seeing Bishop lying on the ground.”

Sara and Cara allege that in the Beverage Mart incident, Gregory had one of his mood swings outside the store.  “He did it, but he has problems,” said Cara.

After being attended to by fellow employee and Saint Albans Town firefighter Matthew Nelson, Bishop was initially brought to Northwestern Medical Center, though he was soon transported to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington for emergency head surgery to reduce swelling.

Bishop has since been released from Fletcher Allen, according to hospital officials.

Affidavits state Gregory left the scene after the alleged assault, went to the Maginn’s house to collect his belongings, from where Cara and Sara Maginn drove him to Burlington. After initially denying involvement and not disclosing his conversation during a phone call police made from Cara’s phone, Gregory eventually surrendered to police last Sunday.

Cara said on Tuesday that she spent all weekend texting Gregory to try and convince him to turn himself in. “She’s totally responsible for that,” said her mother, Sara.

Gregory was then arraigned in Franklin County Superior Court-Criminal Division on Monday on one count of aggravated assault. Cara was the only person who showed up to sit on his side of the courtroom.

Remembering Gregory coming into the courtroom in a jumpsuit and handcuffs, Cara said he looked small and alone. “When he came out, he looked scared,” she said. “He saw me and put his head down and turned the other way.”

Gregory is currently being held at Northwest State Correctional Facility on $25,000 bail, and has a status conference on Oct. 21.

The future

When looking back on the events of last weekend, both Cara and Sara were emotional and frustrated. Both said they’re worried about what will happen to Gregory and are afraid he won’t receive the mental health services he needs.

“He’s going to have to pay the consequences because he hurt somebody, but he also should be entitled to the mental health treatment he needs,” said Sara.

Cara added, “He could serve a long time, but the minute that they let him out without receiving that kind of treatment, it’s going to be the same thing – it’s going to be the same outcome.”

Reading the text message out loud that Gregory sent to Cara before going to prison, both women began to cry. In the message, Gregory thanked both for everything that they had helped him with, and told Cara to get a job and find another man “who will treat her like the queen she is.”

Soon after, Cara shared with her mother for the first time that Gregory said Sara felt like a mother to him. “My mother was never a part of my life,” Cara said was what Gregory told her, which caused Sara to cry.

Sara said, “What he did was not right. [But] that is not someone who purposely went over and jumped somebody.”

She added, “I feel so bad for him. Nobody deserves to feel alone. And he’s a good kid. He just has problems and needs help.”

When asked what she would do next, Cara said she planned to ride out Gregory’s court hearings, potential sentencing and probably prison time, staying by his side.

“And I love him. And when you love somebody, giving up is not an option,” she said. Her mother added, “He’s still a human being. Everybody deserves to be loved, no matter who you are.”

As for Cara herself, she said she is currently looking into getting an online degree in criminal justice from Argosy University, trying to find a job, and working towards her own apartment. She’s also continuing her own counseling and mental health treatment, having found someone she can really connect with and feels helped by.

“[Before], they didn’t know how to deal with me,” Cara said. “I wasn’t getting from them what I was so desperately looking for.”

When asked what that was, she replied, “For somebody to understand where I’m coming from and to give me the support I need.”