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Extreme neglect of twins’ brother

Sat., Nov. 19, 2005

Keeley and Kyler Hebert, 8-year-old twins from Sandpoint, will come home from a week in the Bahamas today to see the results of the weeklong construction of their new home.

But missing from the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” event today, and even from the crowds who will flock to the building site to try to catch a glimpse of the television show’s stars, is Kailin Phillips, the twins’ older brother.

Kailin, 14, lives in Post Falls with his father, Jeff Phillips.

In April of last year, Kailin lived with his younger siblings and their mother, Francine Hebert, in a trailer in Hayden Lake, Idaho, when she suddenly died.

“I was in my room almost a sleep,” said the soft-spoken Kailin. “Kyler woke me up and said something was wrong with Mom. … I tried to wake her up.”

Kailin called a neighbor, who wasn’t home, then called the twins’ paternal grandmother, who lived nearby. She came and also tried to wake up Francine Hebert.

An ambulance was summoned, and Hebert died on the way to the hospital, Kailin said. She died from a heart attack, which is also how her parents died.

Kailin was immediately taken in by his father, who is married and has two other children. The twins stayed with their grandmother for a few days. Their father is in prison, according to Kailin and his family.

So Francine’s brother, 33-year-old Eric Hebert, offered to take the twins. He was a bachelor working in Montana, but moved to Sandpoint after taking in the children and purchased a “berm” house, which has been described as simply a basement with a roof on it.

While press releases from the communications firm volunteering for the massive production in Sandpoint have indicated that Hebert saved the children from the foster care system, Kailin’s father and stepmother challenge that assertion.

“We would have done whatever it took to keep them together,” said Melanie Phillips, while acknowledging it would be a tight squeeze to have all the kids in their small tidy rancher in Post Falls.

Since his mother died, Kailin said, he rarely sees the twins, and hasn’t seen them since early summer.

Keeley phoned him the week before television crews arrived for the “door knock,” when the Hebert family learned they had been chosen for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and were whisked off in a stretch limousine to the airport. But she didn’t say anything about being a finalist for the makeover, he said.

Since then, the hard-luck story of the Hebert family has become known throughout the Inland Northwest – the older half-brother is seldom mentioned. Kailin learned about his siblings’ lucky break when he overheard his father and stepmother discussing it.

The fact that he’s been left out of all the excitement just accentuates the separation from his brother and sister, said his father, Jeff Phillips.

“I don’t want anything out of this, I don’t want to profit from it. I just want my son to be a part of it and not be ousted,” Phillips said. “It’s eating me to see him so devastated and so sad.”

While about 250 construction workers and landscapers have been working 24 hours a day to get the new, nearly 4,000-square-foot home finished before the Heberts’ return, a fund-raising campaign for the twins also has been under way to help pay their college expenses.

Led by First Horizon Home Loans, the college fund effort had raised nearly $22,000 by Friday afternoon, said Sherry Wall of First Horizon.

Wall was surprised Friday to hear that the twins had an older brother.

“I knew nothing about him,” she said. “I think that needs to definitely be discussed and include him in all this.”

Producers of the television show could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon. The show will air next year.


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