Faith and Forgiveness: A Father's Journey

"I didn't really understand what was happening," he said. "The idea that there might be a gunman in my own house, it just didn't, it just didn't compute. And so I stepped forward to look inside, see what was happening. But a moment later, I was shot, too, in the right chest. ... And shortly after that, Bart ran into the house. And as according to plan, received his gunshot wound in his left arm as an attempt to remove suspicion."

When he realized he might die, Kent prayed to God to protect his family.

"I called out to each one of them and the only answer I got was some quiet wet coughs from Tricia. And while I'd never heard those kinda coughs before, I instinctively knew the sound of someone trying to clear their lungs from filling with blood," he said.

Kevin Whitaker was pronounced dead at the scene, and Tricia and Kent were airlifted to a nearby hospital, a trip Tricia did not survive.

Kent said that while he was at the hospital, he began "taking stock of what I'd lost" and initially questioned his deep faith. But he ultimately came to the conclusion that "faith is an act of willpower."

"I just made the conscious decision to tell God, 'I don't know how you're going to do it, I don't know when or where, but I'll believe that you'll work this for good.' And I think events have proven that He has."

Police Close in on Bart Whitaker

It took police in Sugar Land, Texas, an affluent Houston suburb, less than a week to suspect that 23-year-old Bart might have been involved in the crime. But it also took almost two years to gather enough evidence to arrest him.

During the months after Kent was released from the hospital, father and son lived together and underwent what Kent called a seven-month "discipleship." They spent almost every day together reading the Bible and discussing their faith. Kent says that while he suspected his son might have been involved in the murders, he didn't fear for his own safety.

"He had opportunities if he wanted to," he said. "No, I slept well. I slept well. I actually was looking at my time with him as a bridge ... this is why I had been allowed to live that night."

In the summer of 2004, police caught a huge break in the case. A man who claimed to be a former roommate of Bart's came forward, alleging that he had been involved in a plot to kill the family years before that was never carried out. It still wasn't enough to arrest Bart, but police warned Kent that he might be in danger.

Three days later, Bart disappeared. Unbeknownst to his father and the police, he had fled to Mexico.

"By the time that he ran away...things came kind of shattering down on me then," Whitaker said. "Because I realized that even if he had been innocent and was just afraid, he shouldn't run. And if he ran, the odds were that he really was responsible."

"Until [police] could give me some kind of proof or evidence or something to believe them with, I wasn't going to abandon my son," he said. "He was the last of my family. I was going to stand with him."

In August 2005, more than a year after Bart had fled to Mexico, police received another windfall: Bart's neighbor, Steve Champagne, came forward and confessed to the plot to kill the Whitakers. He placed Bart front and center as the mastermind. He also led police to a bag of evidence that contained forensic clues directly linking Bart to the plot. After a few more weeks, the cops were able to track down Bart in Mexico.

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