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April 22, 2009

In the Face of Tragedy…

Michael Kurtianyk

On Sunday morning, I heard the church bells ring as I went to get the morning papers. I wanted to make sure that I picked them up before my 7-year-old daughters got to them. I knew what the headlines were going to be, and I didn’t want daughters to read the headlines before my wife and I had a chance to talk and prepare for that conversation.


I stopped as I thought about the Wood family tragedy.


As is known by now, authorities believe that the father, identified as Christopher Alan Wood, 34, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Mr. Wood's 33-year-old wife, Francie Billotti-Wood, and their three children were each shot once and also sustained "traumatic cut injuries." Autopsies would determine the exact cause of their deaths and how long they had been dead.


Authorities found a shotgun near Mr. Wood's body and a 25 caliber handgun in the kitchen. They also removed notes, believed to have been written by the father.


In a town like Middletown, and a church like Holy Family Catholic Community, the degrees of separation are more like one or two instead of six. We attended church with them, and they lived within a mile of our house. We did not know them, but did see them at church.


I learned, in talking to others, that Francie was active at Holy Family, where she volunteered in the church nursery. She was also a catechist for second-grade pupils and on the parent advisory committee. At Middletown Primary School, where her eldest son attended kindergarten, she was a frequent presence.


She was involved in many things, but she never lost sight of that which made her most proud: being a mother to her three beautiful children. The Washington Post reported that “in a blog that she maintained, Billotti-Wood described herself this way: ‘I am a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a lover of many things, a joiner, a questioner, a truth-seeker and a friend.’ "


How does one make sense of this? What would possess someone to do this? What caused the hatred to overtake someone to such an extent that reason vanishes? These and other thoughts occurred to me during Mass this past weekend.


Father Kevin Farmer, our pastor, asked us to sit before proceeding with Mass. He said that because there were “younger ears” in church, he didn’t want to talk in too many specifics, but wanted to say that our parish lost a family, and that words could not do justice to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. Father Kevin asked us all to pray, and pray we did.


The gospel was about Saint Thomas, the one who doubted Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. I thought about that gospel, thinking that it is easy to doubt your faith upon hearing the news of such a senseless tragedy. During his beautifully passionate homily, Deacon George Sisson told us that we are a community of believers, who, unlike, Doubting Thomas, believe because of our faith.


Deacon George’s words reminded me that back in October, Middletown and Holy Family suffered another loss – Frederick City Police Officer Mark Bremer, who was killed in an automobile accident while pursuing a suspected drunk driver. To doubt one’s faith is a natural reaction to tragic events such as these, but to believe – to truly believe – takes strength. It does take time, but we have the strength to make sense of things.


Middletown Primary School showed great leadership in maintaining constant communications with us during the Bremer tragedy. They are to be commended for all that they did – coordinating a counselors for students and staff; sending a letter home; talking to the families of Chandler’s classmates; and much more.


It is during times such as these that we look to our community leaders for guidance and leadership. I am proud to say that Holy Family and Middletown Primary showed us all this and more. They deserve all the gratitude we can provide.


And, so, we come back to the Wood Family tragedy. What do we do now? What do we do when we hear the church bells ring? What do we do when we stop walking on our way to getting the paper?


My answer is that you do what you always do when you hear such news – you hug your children tighter. You pray. You remember. You listen to the bells’ ring.


You take that next step.


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