Church, family members cope in wake of tragedy



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Church, family members cope in wake of tragedy

By Jenna De Marco | March 20, 2009 {0987}

NOTE: A headshot of the Rev. Brian Carr is available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.

A Miami-Dade family tragedy on Ash Wednesday caused shock and grief, but also acts of healing and service, among members of Perrine-Peters United Methodist Church in Miami and the broader community.

Members of Perrine Peters United Methodist Church have promised to support Javier and Beula Amador (back center) in “any way they need us to,” said the Rev. Brian Carr, after the deaths of their parents, Josue and Maria (center), and sisters Priscila (far left) and Rosa. Photo courtesy of Perrine-Peters United Methodist Church. Photo #09-1125.

Miami-Dade Police reports say Pablo “Josue” Amador, 54, killed his wife Maria, 47, and two of his daughters, Priscila, 14, and Rosa, 13, before killing himself Feb. 25 in the family’s home.

Amador’s 16-year-old son, Javier, called 911 and escaped from the home. Another daughter, Beula, a 19-year-old music therapy undergraduate student at the University of Miami, was not at home at the time of the incident.

Javier is a member of the Miami church; so were his younger sisters. The other three family members were constituents — non-church members for whom the church has pastoral responsibility.

Now, church and surviving family members are working together to cope with the loss of both loved ones and friends.

“You read about it happening to other people, and you think about it, and then it happens to somebody you know, and it’s just amazing when that happens,” said the Rev. Brian Carr, pastor of the church.

Rev. Brian Carr

The family was well known in the community, according to Carr, earning a reputation for their musical gifts and talents and performing a variety of music in area churches. During the 8:30 a.m. worship service at Perrine-Peters, Priscila and Rosa operated the soundboard, while Beula and Javier played piano.

“They formed the foundation of that service so that’s how I knew them the best,” Carr said.

Josue taught piano and voice lessons for all ages. Maria served as director of education for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, housed at the University of Miami. University President Donna Shalala issued a statement the day of the tragedy, saying Maria “was beloved by her colleagues and the many people she served with dedication and compassion.”

Maria also volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. “Maria was very gifted with tools,” Carr said. “ … Maria’s great goal was to finish the houses as quickly as she could — to make sure these houses were filled with love.”

Carr said her legacy is being felt through the church’s willingness to reach out to others and serve God, even in a state of shock.

“The weekend after this happened, when everyone was still shattered, we had people who went to Habitat for Humanity (to serve), and we also had a food bank that … gave meals to more than 100 families,” he said.

Priscila and Rosa attended the youth group at Perrine-Peters United Methodist Church, where, Carr says, they were well regarded by their peers. When arriving for youth gatherings, they frequently received warm welcomes from people of all ages.

“That is just about the way that everybody reacted (to them),” Carr said. “They were typical adolescent girls … but they were deeply loved by everyone.”

Priscila and Rosa also attended summer camp at the Florida Conference’s Warren W. Willis United Methodist camp in Fruitland Park. They were already registered for camp this summer.

Beginning the healing process

During Ash Wednesday dinner and services, Carr says church members began working through what had happened that day.

“As (the youth) ate, I just kind of let them talk,” he said. “That first night they were mainly just furious and in shock. We just tried to be really open with them, and then we had the service.”

Grief counselors from Hospice also visited the church the following Sunday to assist children and youth who knew the family.

A week after the tragedy hundreds attended funeral services at nearby Christ Fellowship Church, which was among a host of churches that contacted Carr to offer assistance. Carr said Christ Fellowship’s members and pastors, Rick Blackwood and Pete Cotto, organized the funeral proceedings, which would have been too large for Perrine-Peters, a smaller church of multicultural, multigenerational members.

“They contacted us after it happened, and they offered it to us, and I immediately said, ‘Will you consider hosting the funeral?’ ” Carr said. “They handled all the logistics afterward, and their church responded by bringing food, and it was just amazing. … I know we could not have handled the logistics.”

In his sermon to mourners, Carr says he shared how the presence of God can be felt even in terrible moments, citing experiences of Job and the disciples. Several members of the Amador family also spoke, Carr said, including Beula, who said she loved her father; that he made her the person she is.

“The son played at the funeral a composition that he had written, and his heart came though his fingertips,” Carr said.

One of the slain girls’ cousins talked about her love for the victims and her forgiveness for her uncle, causing audible reactions among those gathered, Carr said. Her statements became a topic of conversation among the youth later that day.

“Many of them mentioned that that was the most profound part of the funeral for them,” said Audrey Warren, a former Florida Conference summer camp team pastor who attended the funeral. “I think she really began to open the door of forgiveness … she was open to what forgiveness might mean in this situation and it really turned them to … a place of acceptance and remembrance.”

A group supper and special service for the youth later that evening marked a turning point in the healing process, Carr said. Warren led the service, and about 40 youth and 15 parents attended.

Warren said her focus was to help the youth remember the girls and talk about their relationships with them. “Really, what I wanted to do was to give them a model of how to remember or how to share,” she said.

After Warren “eventually got the kids talking about their favorite memories (of the girls), I could literally see them getting better before my eyes,” Carr said. “(I knew) a major hurdle was crossed, and you can tell people were getting better. I sensed a renewed commitment.”

Warren, who will be commissioned at the Florida Annual Conference Event in June, said it was a privilege to be with the grieving students. “It’s one of those moments that humbles you as a pastor,” she said.

In the spotlight

In the midst of helping family and church members cope, church leaders got a crash course in crisis communication to deal with requests for information from local and national media. 

Perrine-Peters United Methodist Church. Photo courtesy of Perrine-Peters United Methodist Church. Photo #09-1126.

Carr says they had a good teacher. Kevin Cerchiai, a church member with expertise working in the movie industry, helped handle the media scrutiny.

“I had (Kevin) show up … and he shadowed me for three or four days, and he was like my bodyguard and my personal assistant,” Carr said.

Cerchiai shared funeral arrangements and developments related to the extended family. He also helped establish and maintain boundaries on the church campus. On a rainy Sunday just days after the tragedy, Cerchiai was on hand to direct media to a dry walkway area.

“ … Everybody was beyond respectful,” Carr said. “They all pointed their cameras away from the church.”

“So many people in the church have stepped up like that,” Carr added, “and it has done me great good to see the church’s reactions.”

Moving forward

Now that the initial shock of what happened and the constant media attention have subsided, Javier and Beula, who have been staying with relatives, have returned to their routines at school.

The church’s focus now, Carr says, is to help them and their extended family cope in the days and weeks ahead. 

Just weeks after the tragedy, Beula asked Carr to challenge the youth to sing at the 8:30 a.m. service as a living memorial to her family.

“We had 12 youth who showed up … to help lead worship,” Carr said. “It was awesome. It did us all good, especially Beula, Javier and their cousins, friends and aunt in attendance.”

During a special time of recognition for Priscila and Rosa, who had served as acolytes, Beula and Javier stood at the altar rail. Carr says he asked the “entire church family to come up and surround them as we prayed for them.”

“I told them (Beula and Javier) that our surrounding them physically was symbolic of the way we want to surround them with our love, prayers, service and anything or any way they need us to,” he said. “It was a powerful moment.”

The youth have said they would like to plant a tree at the Warren Willis camp as a memorial to Rosa and Priscila. It’s an idea camp leaders say they support.

Both the church and the University of Miami have established funds to help Beula and Javier. Individuals who would like to contribute to the church fund may do so by sending donations made payable to PPUMC and marked “Amador Family” to Perrine-Peters United Methodist Church, 18301 S. Dixie Highway, Miami, FL 33157. Contributions to the university’s educational fund should be designated to benefit the Amador family and sent to the University of Miami, P.O. Box 248073, Coral Gables, FL 33124.
 
News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.




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