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Russell Yates bids farewell to his 5 children

By Michelle McCalope TIME

HOUSTON, Texas -- Time reporter Michelle McCalope was one of two reporters admitted to the funeral of the five Yates children on Wednesday. This is her account of the service.

On a bright and sunny day in Houston, a tired, weary, and tearful Russell Yates stood in front of his only daughter Mary's tiny, cream-colored casket to present his six-month old baby with her favorite blanket before saying goodbye forever.

"This is Mary's little blankee," he told the audience at the funeral of his five children who police say were killed June 21 by their mother. "She loved this blankee."

Then turning around to Mary who was dressed in pink, he said. "Sorry I didn't get to see you grow up. I love you. Rest in peace," as his voice broke down with tears.

He placed the blanket in the casket and summoned funeral directors to come and prepare the casket for closing. Then he placed his hands on the top of the casket and closed it.

It was one of several heartwrenching moments during Yates' 30-minute eulogy at the funeral services of Mary, Luke, 2, Paul, 3, John, 5 and Noah, 7. You could hear quiet sobs throughout the services. The jam-packed services were held at the Clear Lake Church of Christ, a 550-seat church with beige brick walls and a wooden vaulted ceiling.

During the eulogy, Yates dressed in a dark suit stood beside each casket and told the audience about the child's personality, likes and dislikes, and recalled favorite family stories -- some of them funny. While he was talking, sometimes even rambling, a happy, smiling picture of each child was shown on a projector screen. Yates often glanced down to look at a small card with his notes on it.

"I was telling my relatives stories over dinner and that's kind of like how I'd like to tell you. I want to spend a few minutes on each child," said Yates who still looked like he was in shock.

He walked over to Noah's casket, looked at him and started talking. Noah was his first born. He was smart and independent and liked tearing things apart and putting them back together.

"This picture here? -- that's him," said Yates referring to a smiling picture of Noah on the screen as his voice broke with tears. But he managed to keep his composure enough to get through each child and complete the eulogy. John was a rough and tumble kind of guy. Paul was a perfect child. Luke was the kind of child who would take what he wanted.

When he talked about Mary, he shared with the audience how surprised he was when he found out he was having a girl.

"Andrea asked me about kids. She said 'do you want boys or girls?' I said I wanted to get a basketball team first then we can talk about girls. When Andrea was carrying Mary, I thought she was a boy. I thought that was all we'd ever have. When Mary came out, I was shocked."

After the stories came the tearful goodbyes. He placed a blanket in each casket and said a personal goodbye to each child.

"Bye bye Noah. You're in good hands now," he said crying. To Luke, he said "I love you. I hope to see you again."

To Paul, "you're the best." To John, "thank you for all your enthusiasm, John. It meant a lot to me."

To the audience he explained: "I wanted to say how thankful I am that I took the time to know them. Every minute I had I spent with the kids. We did so much together. They were my friends."

"I look at these children and I know that God cares for each of these children. I take comfort in knowing they're in his hands."

After the tearful goodbyes, he shared a few scriptures that have helped him deal with the tragedy. The scriptures were placed on the projector screen.

"This is hard for me to read," said Yates looking at the screen with a scripture from Job 1:21. "I read it the other day and started crying."

Part of the scripture reads: "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." As he tried to read it, he began to cry.

But after reading a part of it, he said, "That's what he's done. He gave me all these children and now he's taken them away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

With that, a heartbroken, numb father took his seat on the first pew of the church.

Perhaps the day was best summarized by Rev. Byron Fike, the minister at Clear Lake Church of Christ when he said: "What is the good in this? We don't know."

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