Helping Them Cope When Tragedy Strikes, Pt. 1


How do you tell your daughter that her best friend’s family has been murdered?

My cell phone buzzed about halfway through church on Sunday morning, March 2, 2008. I recognized the number, a friend from Emory, Texas, but couldn’t understand why he would be calling me on Sunday. I taught a class of homeschoolers at his karate school and assumed that the call had something to do with my class. Since my homeschool class wouldn’t meet till Tuesday, I decided to return his call later. By the end of the service, my phone showed two more missed calls, both from my friend. I knew that something had to be wrong, so when I had a chance I went out to

Cover of Terror by Night

the foyer and called him back.

“Somebody attacked the Caffey family and burned their house down,” his wife said. “We don’t know the details yet, but some of them were killed.”

I couldn’t process what I was hearing.

Terry Caffey, his wife Penny, and their children were friends of ours. We met when Penny enrolled their daughter, Erin, and their youngest son Tyler in my karate for homeschoolers class. Tyler quit the class after several months, but Erin continued for quite a while and became close friends with my daughter, Charlene.

Charlene spent a lot of time at the Caffeys’ home, and it was one of her favorite places to go. I do a fair amount of speaking, and she was at that age where traveling with Mom and Dad wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world. So whenever my wife, Laurel, and I were on the road, Charlene would stay at the Caffeys.

And even though we lived in Greenville, Texas, about 45 minutes away from their home in Alba, Erin spent quite a few weekends at our place, too. The girls were so close that we invited Erin to go to church camp with us in the summer of 2007.

When we came back from camp, we dropped Erin off at the Caffeys’ home. It was a beautiful little house tucked away in the woods. Laurel and I drank coffee and visited with Terry and Penny for a while before we continued on to our home near Greenville.

That was the last time I was ever in that house.

Now, less than a year later, as we were driving home from church, Laurel called our friends again to see if they knew any more details. At that point, we didn’t know if anybody had survived.

We wanted to get home before we told Charlene, so Laurel didn’t speak out loud as she relayed the horrible news. As we drove from our church in Rowlett back to Greenville, Laurel wrote down on a church bulletin the names of the family members: Terry, Penny, Erin, Bubba, Tyler.

And then, as our friend relayed the news, Laurel quietly marked an X over Penny’s, Bubba’s and Tyler’s names.

I can’t even begin to describe how I felt as I saw her mark out those names.

We drove the rest of the way home in silence, as I desperately prayed for wisdom.

How was I going to tell Charlene that someone had murdered her best friend’s family?

* * *

On Saturday, March 1, 2008, at 3 a.m., two men broke into the home of the Caffey family in Alba, Texas. They shot Terry Caffey five times and left him for dead. Then they murdered his wife, Penny, and their two young sons, Matthew and Tyler. After that, they set the house on fire. Terry regained consciousness, escaped the burning house and crawled 400 yards through the woods to a neighbor’s to get help. Later he learned that his 16-year-old daughter, Erin, was involved in the murder plot.

After these tragic events, God did an amazing work in Terry’s life and it was my great privilege to help him tell his story in the book Terror by Night.” Recently (June 26 & 27, 2012), Terry recounted his story on Nightline, Good Morning America and The View. His story was also retold in ABC’s new summer series, “Final Witness.”

Terry’s daughter, Erin, was my daughter’s best friend. This series of posts contain reflections from a dad’s perspective on helping my daughter cope with an indescribable tragedy.







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