Copyright 2000 McClatchy Newspapers, Inc.
August 31, 2000, Thursday, ALL EDITION
SECTION: A; Pg. A1
BODY: The video tribute during Wednesday's funeral marked milestones in the all-too-short lives of Ashley Danielle and John William Carpenter.
John grinning with two missing teeth. Ashley holding up a prized fish. John getting a piggyback ride on his father's shoulders. The two of them swinging Fourth of July sparklers.
Their burial Wednesday afternoon in the Mariposa Cemetery marked the final chapter in their short lives.
Ashley, 9, and John, 7, were killed Aug. 23 while inside their rural Merced home. They were buried side-by-side in a quilt-lined casket picked out by their mother, Tephanie Carpenter.
About 1,000 family members, friends and well-wishers gathered at Apostolic Tabernacle Church on Wednesday morning for the funeral. More than 300 people traveled to the foothills, where the two children were laid to rest next to their great-grandparents.
A wall of flowers ringed the front of the church, stuffed animals interspersed among the arrangements. Off to one side was a giant teddy bear bigger than both youngsters. The polished casket was open, with the two youngsters covered with a white veil.
During the ceremony Ashley was hailed for saving her three older sisters, Vanessa Trinity, Jessica Lynn and Anna Marie.
"Ashley sacrificed her life to save the lives of her sisters," said the Rev. Tom Driscoll of Gospel Defenders Church. He described how the tiny girl tackled the intruder, Jonathon David Bruce, and wrapped herself around him, yelling to her siblings, "Go. Go. Get away."
Bruce killed Ashley with the same wide-blade pitchfork he used to kill her little brother. When sheriff's deputies responded to a 911 call at the Vassar Avenue home, Bruce attacked them with the same farm tool, authorities said. He was shot 13 times and died at the scene. Investigators have said that they suspect Bruce was under the influence of drugs.
"This case is far from over," said their father, John Carpenter, from the church pulpit. "The real murderer is still loose. The real murderer is the drug dealer who supplied the drugs. . . . It's a big business."
And he implied that the two children might be alive if gun laws were different. "From the White House to the outhouse, why are you taking away handguns?"
He said there was a gun in the house that the older sisters knew how to use, "but I had to put it away in a supposedly safe place. The only thing I forgot to put a lock on was my pitchfork."
"Daddy don't cry for the times we will not have," sang Peggy Hilton, a family member who wrote the song "Daddy Don't Cry" after the tragedy. "Mama don't cry, I know you're feeling sad."
Tissues and hugs were freely exchanged throughout the two-hour funeral.
The Rev. Johnny Hilton of Gospel Defenders Church presided over the service. His voice cracking with emotion, he said, "These two little kids pulled more at the heartstrings of this town than I have ever done in my 67 years."
Hilton, who is John Carpenter's uncle, has often acted as a family spokesman during the ordeal. He recently fielded a call from a German television station. "Those two little ol' kids touched the heart of the entire world."
The graveside service was held at a Hilton family burial plot nestled under an oak tree at the bottom of a hill.
In a hushed voice, Tephanie Carpenter read from baby books she and her husband wrote in shortly after each child was born. She said they had planned to give them to the children when they were older.
Ashley was a quick birth, born at the family's house when the Carpenters were living in Mariposa.
"You didn't cry at all," her mother read. "You were looking around with bright eyes and as calm as could be.
"You are the best baby I ever could dream of, and I hope you stay that way."
In Ashley's baby book her father wrote: "We needed to have one more girl so we could have an all-girl basketball team." Mom wasn't too thrilled with that idea, he added.
Tephanie Carpenter said her son was never scared or upset "except during diaper changes and baths. . . . You don't even cry when Ashley thumps you in the head."
In the baby book she wrote that she was glad about her son's birth. "I'm afraid I would have missed out. . . . I can't believe it's not a dream."
At the end of the service, the parents released two white doves into the mountain sky to the words, "He will raise you upon dove's wings."
A flock of doves was then released and it circled over the cemetery.
As the friends and family members sang "Amazing Grace," John Carpenter gazed toward the sky at the birds.
"God has two more little angels now," Hilton said.