June 9, 2006

Put family tragedy ‘in hands of God,’
pastor says

By John Shaughnessy

In his mind, Father Michael O’Mara can picture the two boys proudly standing in front of the altar on May 21—the two brothers preparing to receive their first Holy Communion while their parents and their extended family beamed with the joy of this special moment in the life of a Catholic.

In his mind, Father O’Mara tries to imagine the horror and the suffering that these two brothers endured less than two weeks later when they were shot and killed in their eastside Indianapolis home, along with their parents and three other family members.

The seven murders on June 1 marked the worst mass killing in Indianapolis history. And like most people who were shocked and horrified by the killings, the murders left their mark on Father O’Mara—the priest who gave the homilies at funeral Masses for family members on June 6 and 7. (See photos from funeral)

As he prepared to give the homilies, the Indianapolis priest called upon his memories of the family while he tried to make sense of the deaths.

He could still see the two brothers—Alberto Covarrubias, 11, and David Covarrubias, 8—sitting at Sunday Mass on either side of their father, Alberto Covarrubias Sr., 56.

He could still see the faces of the boys’ mother—46-year-old Emma Valdez—and her two children from a previous marriage, Magno Albarran, 29, and Flora Albarran, 22. Then there was the face of Flora’s 5-year-old son, Luis Albarran.

All seven had been shot in the head and the body during an attempted robbery in their home, according to the Indianapolis Police Department.

“I think of the horror that family must have experienced in that moment,” said Father O’Mara, the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis. “It sends chills through my body.

“This is a very overwhelming moment. People are looking to all their religious leaders to make sense of it. We’re trying to make sense of it, too. The reality is you can’t make sense out of such a violent act. Because we can’t make sense of it, we can only put it in the hands of God.”

That message was part of the homilies that Father O’Mara planned to share at two funeral Masses for the family members. The funeral Mass for Alberto Covarrubias Sr. was at St. Mary Church on June 6 while the funeral Mass for the other family members was on June 7 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

In his homilies, Father O’Mara also planned to tell mourners how the brothers’ first Communion and the family’s murders fit into the context of Catholics’ belief in the Paschal Mystery—the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Their suffering is the Passion happening in such a short moment,” he said. “The first Communion that was celebrated just weeks before is the resurrection. That’s what brings hope to us. This isn’t the end of life. There is life that is promised to us in heaven.”

That promise was embraced by the family on May 21 when Alberto and David made their first Communion at St. Philip Neri Church in Indianapolis.

“The church was packed,” recalled Father Carlton Beever, the pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish. “There were about 30 kids making first Communion. It was a big celebration for their family. Afterward, I believe they had a fiesta at their home.

“I think it’s fortunate they did make their first Communion before they died. It meant a lot to their family that the boys made this first step. Their Church life, their faith life, was important to them.”

Carmen Ramirez remembers how the family faithfully attended the Spanish Mass every Sunday at St. Philip. As a member of the church choir, Ramirez watched how the family came through the same door every Sunday and sat in the same pew.

At Sunday Mass on June 4—three days after the murders—Ramirez created a memorial to the family in the same pew where they always sat. She placed seven red roses in the pew.

“I knew they weren’t to come that day, and it made me feel sad,” said Ramirez, who was a friend of the family. “So I wanted to do it. No one else sat in the pew. I feel like they were there.”

After Mass, she went to the home of Emma Valdez and Alberto Covarrubius Sr. in the 500 block of North Hamilton Avenue. There, she prayed the rosary five times for the family.

Every time she finished a decade of the rosary, she asked God to be compassionate toward the two Indianapolis men who have been arrested in the murders, Desmond Turner, 28, and James A. Stewart, 30.

“We have to forgive because God forgave us for what we did with him,” she said.

After she finished praying the rosaries, Ramirez joined three other women to sing six hymns outside the home. She also stayed for a memorial service during which Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, Father O’Mara and others spoke to about 500 people who crowded around the family’s small home. The ecumenical service brought together people of different faiths, races and backgrounds.

“One of the things that was felt and acknowledged that night is that the response has been one of great compassion from the community,” said Father O’Mara, who served as the pastor of St. Philip Neri from 1991 to 1996 and as administrator for 19 months from 2004 to earlier this year.

“It has pointed out to us how we are all human. We’re all part of the human family and God’s family. This isn’t something that has just happened to one family.”

Since the murders, people who knew the family and strangers wanting to pay their respects have flocked to the home. They have lined the sidewalk with votive candles and stuffed animals while placing wreaths, signs, rosaries and bouquets of flowers on a chainlink fence in front of the house.

Sherry Williams was there for the June 4 memorial service. She returned a day later to pay her respects—similar to the white woman who cried as she tucked a note into the fence, similar to a black man who placed an angel on the sidewalk, similar to the Hispanic mothers and children who kept their own vigil.

“I wanted to pay my respects,” said Williams, a mother of three who is also a member of Shepherd Community Church of the Nazarene, a neighborhood church. “I know how I would feel if that was my family. I don’t know how someone could do that, especially to children. It’s sad this had to happen for a neighborhood to come together.”

The sadness and the horror of the deaths continue for so many people who loved, enjoyed and appreciated the seven family members. Father O’Mara counts himself among those who were blessed by their lives. He takes some measure of solace from a story about David, the 8-year-old boy.

The story concerns a moment that occurred when David recently made a visit to a nursing home as part of a neighborhood ministry.

During the visit, David talked to an elderly woman who was a resident of the nursing home, a woman who was grieving because her roommate had died recently.

Trying to comfort the woman, David told her, “She is now with God. She’s at peace. She’s OK.”
Father O’Mara believes that same destiny is now true for David and his family. †


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