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June 28, 2001

Father eulogizes 5 murdered children

'The hardest thing I've ever had to do'

Pam Easton
The Associated Press
National Post

Richard Carson, Reuters
Russell Yates touches the casket of one of his five children at their funeral yesterday. His wife has been accused of drowning them.

HOUSTON - The father of five children, allegedly drowned by their mother, choked with grief as he spoke at their funeral yesterday, then placed a blanket next to each little body before the caskets were closed for the final time.

"I can't possibly tell you everything there is to know about each one of them," Russell Yates told about 500 mourners at the Clear Lake Church of Christ, a few blocks from the Yates' home. "But I can give you a glimpse of who they were."

Six-month-old Mary was dressed in a pink sleeper. Her three-year-old brother Paul was to her left and two-year-old Luke to her right. Noah, 7, wore a multi-coloured sweater emblazoned with a truck. John, 5, wore an orange and black sweater.

Noah, Mr. Yates said, was intelligent, independent and a lover of bugs; John, rough and tumble, with a great smile; Paul the most well-behaved; Luke was the troublemaker, the one most likely to challenge boundaries; and Mary was the "princess" of the family.

"If the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, that's exactly what he's done," Mr. Yates said. "He gave me all these children and now he's taken them away."

The white caskets were arrayed in an arc, each with a ribbon bearing a child's name. After a service of about 75 minutes, they were wheeled from the church for the procession to a nearby cemetery.

The children's mother, Andrea Yates, remained in jail under a 24-hour suicide watch. She was said to be suffering from postpartum depression at the time of the killings. She has been charged with capital murder.

Police were called to the Yates' suburban Houston home on June 20, when they found the bodies of the four youngest children still wet under a sheet on a bed. Noah was found in the bathtub. Police say Mrs. Yates confessed to the slayings.

As Mr. Yates began his eulogies, he said it was "the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

"I was sitting at the dinner table the other night telling stories and that's how I would like to tell you," he said. "I tell you every minute I had, I was with them. It wasn't like they were just some generic children that happened to be mine. They were my friends." He went to each casket, pausing before them.

Noah once caught a caterpillar that became a butterfly when the family was on a road trip, he recalled. They stopped on the side of the road and let the butterfly go soon after it emerged from the cocoon. Mr. Yates gazed down at Noah: "That is kind of how I look at this. We've set you free."

When he talked of Mary, he said he could not believe his wife had given birth to a girl.

"I thought boys were all we'd ever have," he said. "I told her I wanted a basketball team first, then we'd talk about girls." Mr. Yates said nothing else about his wife.

After his remarks, he slipped the blankets into each casket. Noah's blanket, which appeared at one time to have been white, looked old and ragged. Mary's was pink.

Mr. Yates arranged pictures of the children on a table in a church hallway. One shows a smiling Noah in the bathtub with sections of wet hair sticking up.

"I don't think there are words in any language that can describe what has happened," Reverend Byron Fike said.

"I am just trying to focus on the fact that they are safe and nothing can ever hurt them again," said Terry Arnold, co-owner of a bookstore where the parents bought supplies to home-school their children.

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