Mom of boy in Coronado mansion death breaks yearlong silence

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Ryan O'Donnell

Posted on July 16, 2012 at 10:06 AM

Updated Monday, Jul 16 at 6:36 PM

PHOENIX -- On the first anniversary of her young son's death inside his father's historic mansion on Coronado Island off the coast of San Diego, Dr. Dina Shacknai is finally breaking her silence.

Shacknai, the ex-wife of Scottsdale businessman Jonah Shacknai, hosted a news conference late Monday morning announce an initiative "to further the legacy of Max Shacknai."

Last July, Max, 6, fell from the second-floor staircase of Spreckles Mansion. He was in the care of his father's girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau at the time. Zahau's naked body was found hanging from a balcony a couple of days later.

Zahau's death was ruled a suicide, although a second autopsy raised questions about that.

"I lean very strongly toward it being a homicide, something involving foul play, and I lean very strongly against a suicide," said forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht on a "Dr. Phil" show dedicated to the case in November.

Zahau's family has been adamant that she did not kill herself.

Max's death was ruled an accident, but Shacknai believes there's more to it. Much more.

"It's still my job to find out what really happened to him, isn't it?" she reportedly said in an exclusive interview with Phoenix Magazine. That interview will appear in the new issue, which hits newsstands this week.

Shacknai also told the magazine she and her ex-husband had agreed that Zahau would not babysit Max, known affectionately by his family as Maxie. She also said she wished she could ask Zahau, also known as Rebecca Nalepa, what happened the day Max fell.

"We are certain that the accident scenario put forth by the Coronado Police Department is inaccurate," said Shacknai's lawyer, Angela Hallier, during the news conference. She said their private investigator has turned up information that they wish to share with detectives, explaining that they have formally requested a meeting with the Coronado P.D.

Monday's news conference was the first time Shacknai has spoken publicly about her son and his death. The foundation she has created, Maxie's H.O.U.S.E., is designed to protect children whose parents are divorced. "H.O.U.S.E." is an acronym for hope, outreach, understanding, safety and education.

According to the organization's website, the mission of Maxie's H.O.U.S.E. is "[t]o uphold and promote the physical and emotional safety of our children living in more than one home by offering a national resource center, programs, and other forms of support."

"Maxie's H.O.U.S.E is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public, parents, child caregivers and lawmakers about the need to insure the safety and well-being of a child in blended families," the site reads.

The organization is rooted firmly in Max's memory. Shacknai "felt the best way to honor the memory of her son Max was to build a non profit organization which would be the voice of children of blended families around the country, as well as an educational resource for parents and caretakers."

Last month, Jonah Shacknai, CEO of Medicis Pharmaceutical Corporation, announced the formation of a nonprofit foundation called MaxInMotion, which will help underprivileged children in Arizona participate in sports and other programs.

That organization was unveiled on what would have been Max's seventh birthday.

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