Helping Them Cope When Tragedy Strikes, Pt. 2

We drove home from church in silence.

Charlene knew something was wrong—but she didn’t have a clue how terrible the news would be.

Minutes earlier I’d gotten a phone call from a friend, telling me that several members of the Caffey family had been murdered in an early morning home invasion. Details were sketchy. All we knew was that some of the family had been killed, but we didn’t know who, if anyone, had survived.

For the last few years, Charlene had been best friends with Erin Caffey. Now, somehow I had to find a way to tell her that Erin’s family—and maybe Erin herself—had been brutally murdered.

How do you break that kind of news to your daughter?

As we drove back toward our home in Greenville, my wife called our friends to see if they had any more information. On the back of a church bulletin, she wrote down the names of the Caffey family members: Terry, Penny, Erin, Bubba, Tyler. Then, as our friends relayed the terrible news, Laurel quietly marked an X over Penny’s, Bubba’s, and Tyler’s names.

I can only describe my feelings as a mixture of overwhelming sadness and relief.

I was deeply saddened that Penny, Bubba and Tyler had been killed but relieved that at least Terry and Erin had survived. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be to tell Charlene about this tragedy, but now at least I could soften it a bit.

I could tell her that her best friend had survived.

When we got home, Charlene followed us into the living room.

“What’s wrong?” she demanded. Her face was etched with fear and worry.

I motioned to my recliner. “Sit down.”

I sat down opposite her and told her what little I knew.

“Erin’s parents made her break up with her boyfriend, and I guess he didn’t like that. So he and another man broke into their house last night. They killed Penny, Bubba, and Tyler. Erin and Terry survived. I don’t know much more than that.”

Charlene began crying.

And I’ve never felt so helpless in my life.

As a dad, you want to protect your children from the painful parts of life. You want to shield them from sickness and pain and death and grief. But sooner or later, no matter what you do, the evil of this fallen world breaks through.

When it does, you hope that your kids will be able to cope. And you hope that you’ll have the wisdom to help them.

Charlene’s tears passed, but I knew that there were open wounds that would take a long time to heal. I felt that since Erin had survived, perhaps Charlene would find healing in helping her friend come to grips with her own grief.

But it wasn’t long before I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Only a few hours after I broke the news about the Caffey family murders to my daughter, I saw a headline on The Greenville Herald Banner’s web site.

Erin Caffey had been implicated in the murders and was under arrest.

We were going to have a long road to walk in the months to come.


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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