Damas family funeral
On October 3, 2009 Friends and family ...
BOOKMARK DAMAS SECTION
NAPLES — Long before six bodies sank into the earth, the reality of their deaths brought a family to its knees.
At the sight of the four white caskets carrying the remains of their slain loved ones -- Guerline Dieu Damas and her five children -- the relatives of the slain family sent up a collective wail and collapsed into one another Saturday.
They shook and heaved, held one another and leaned on the caskets.
It was a long and difficult day of mourning for family, friends and strangers alike, as all attempted to cope with the slayings that, in their brutality and abruptness, offered no easy answers.
“Where was God?” asked the Rev. Josue Innocent of the Eden Seventh Day Adventist Church in Fort Myers.
Some saw a practical message in the deaths.
“She and the kids did not deserve to die in such a horrific way,” said Dona Dieu, the sister-in-law to Guerline Dieu. “Domestic violence transcends all backgrounds and social status.”
The bodies of Dieu, 32, and her five children, ranging in ages from 19 months to 9 years, were found Sept. 19 in their North Naples townhouse, stabbed and cut across the necks.
Dieu’s husband, and the children’s father, Mesac Damas, 33, a man with a history of domestic violence, would later be arrested in Haiti and charged with six counts of first-degree murder. He confessed publicly following his capture in Haiti.
Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk has called the killings the “most horrific and violent event” in the community’s history.
The children were Meshach, 9; Maven, 6; Marven, 5; Megan, 3; and Morgan, 19 months.
On Saturday, thousands came to remember the slain family during a funeral service at the First Baptist Church of Naples. The following burial service at Palm Royale Cemetery in North Naples saw hundreds gather around the grave site.
By day’s end, four steel caskets with the six bodies were buried together in a small lawn hemmed in by trees and shrubs. The two sisters, Megan and Morgan, were buried in the caskets of Marven and Maven, respectively.
Dozens of relatives were on hand from both sides of the family. The family of Guerline Dieu dressed in white and sat in the front. The family of Mesac Damas, including his brothers and mother, sat in the middle of the auditorium, dressed in darker colors.
Thousands of Haitians from Naples and beyond also gathered to lend support.
Raynald Casimir, 54, of Naples, said he knew of people driving two to three hours to attend the funeral.
“It’s something that’s never happened in the Haitian community,” he said. That’s why everybody is so amazed at what’s going on.”
They arrived well before the 9 a.m. visitation, crowding the corridors outside the sanctuary. An hour later, the doors open and the room nearly full, a long line stretched by the closed caskets.
Slide shows played on several screens. In one photograph, Meshach clutched a football and grimaced; in another, a baby girl reached for her toes.
Posterboards between the caskets offered more pictures of the family, and one included letters from classmates of the older children.
More than 2,200 people filled the church sanctuary for the three-hour service, conducted in English, French and Creole. The ceremony began just after 11 a.m. and didn’t conclude until around 2 p.m.
Those without seats gathered in a nearby chapel, which held another 700 people. The overflow moved into the church lobby to watch the service on several small televisions suspended on the wall. Like those in the sanctuary, they held hands, stood and cried when the moment hit them.
Grief was never far away from the ceremony. Women wailed, and some had to be removed from the sanctuary.
The Rev. Jean Paul of Naples New Haitian Church of the Nazarene led the service and was joined by other pastors on the stage.
Innocent, in his message, said God had not abandoned the family but that they were “collateral damage” in the larger battle between good and evil.
He said domestic violence was the root of the deaths.
Mesac Damas, the accused killer, had been arrested before for beating Dieu.
“In this quiet city of Naples, a great injustice happened to one family that greatly impacted our whole human family ...The lives of a mother and her five young children cut short by domestic violence. We never thought such cruelty would happen in our back yard,” Innocent said.
Dona Dieu, Guerline Dieu’s sister-in-law, noted that more than 13,000 cases of domestic abuse were cited in Florida in 2008, and she called for more proactive steps in the community. Family members also thanked the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and community members for support.
Much of the day was saved for memories and recollections. Nieces, nephews and cousins of the victims gathered at the stage to remember their relatives -- Maven was mischievous, Marven had a sweet nature and Megan had an attitude. Two young nephews of Guerline Damas sang a song for their aunt.
Mesac Damas was mentioned sparingly, and only in relation to happier memories of his family.
Martine Fleury, a niece of Guerline, wondered at the suddenness of the deaths.
“I ask myself, is this really real? But once I walked through those doors and saw these four caskets, it’s real, and I can’t believe it’s happening,” she said with a sob.
It became even more real at the burial site, where a throng of gatherers surrounded a small tent that shaded the caskets. As Paul spoke in French, the crowd leaned forward. They sang hymns together, and they watched as family members released doves.
The crowd, estimated at 1,500 by funeral organizers, moved to another nearby tent for the burial. Wails broke out as each steel casket moved into the large grave, each placed side-by-side. As Guerline Dieu’s mother reacted in horror, a family member held her knees to keep her in her chair.
Once each casket had been laid in the grave, the families boarded a pair of buses, and the crowd departed. Several relatives remained in silence to watch a backhoe lift the concrete vault lids and gingerly put each in place.
The crowds were gone but their support remained, as Dona Dieu noted during the service.
“Our burden feels lighter when good and well-intentioned people surround us,” she said.