Salem, Jamaica | Jonathan Gallagher / ANN

Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Salem, Jamaica, are grieving over the family murder of three girls on March 27.

In the early morning hours, a father attacked his common-law wife and four children, killing three daughters, Leisha Thomas (21), Lacey Thomas (11) and Amanda Thomas (23 months), before setting the house on fire and hanging himself. His wife, Ioni McKnight, and daughter, Althea Thomas (15), survived the attack, although both were seriously injured. All the children were members of the Adventist church community in Salem, and their mother attended occasionally. The father apparently never visited the church.

“We are grieving over the whole situation,” says Pastor Leon Wellington, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the West Indies. “This is an appalling tragedy and we wish it could have been averted. We invite our world-wide church family to pray with us for those who are grieving, both the family and the church members who are feeling this loss so keenly.”
The local church has launched a recovery fund for the survivors and is hosting a series of grief management and counseling seminars, reports Pastor Anthony Gordon, director of Family Life Ministries for the Adventist Church’s Central Jamaican Conference. Gordon is also a qualified marriage and family counselor and is conducting the meetings.

“Last Sunday (April 2) the church was full to overflowing for the grief management seminar,” reports Gordon. “Members of other denominations attended, and the whole local community is involved. So many have been totally shocked by this terrible event. We were pleased that the surviving daughter, Althea, has now been released from the hospital, and she was there in church with us. Sadly, the mother is still in the hospital. She was sleeping when the attack occurred and was rendered unconscious. She has now regained consciousness, but she is unaware of what has happened. The family will be breaking the news to her.”

The local minister, Pastor Orlando Patterson, is working with other counselors to try to bring comfort to a community in shock at the violence of this tragic event, comments Gordon. “We appreciate the support we have received at this time of sorrow in our community.”

Speaking for the Adventist community world-wide, Pastor Jan Paulsen, president of the Adventist Church, expressed his deep sadness for what had occurred and offered his sincere condolences.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened at the news of this tragic event,” he said. “At such times we can only turn to our faith in God and trust in Him to heal the wounds of pain and grief. Our thoughts and prayers go to the family members who are grieving and to the whole church and community in Salem who have experienced such a distressing tragedy.”

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