From the Fresno Bee (August 31, 2000)

Copyright 2000 McClatchy Newspapers, Inc. Fresno Bee (California)
August 31, 2000, Thursday FINAL EDITION
LENGTH: 744 words
HEADLINE: Carpenter kids resting together Their father says: 'I know without a shadow of a doubt where my children are today.'

BODY: Some were friends, some strangers, but the crowd that gathered Wednesday shared a common grief over the death of two innocent children who were slain in their home by a pitchfork-wielding man.

"They reached out with their little fingers and touched the heart of an entire world," the Rev. John Hilton said.

Ashley and John William Carpenter, ages 9 and 7, respectively, were buried Wednesday, one week after Jonathon David Bruce -- a man suspected of being under the influence of drugs -- broke into their rural Merced home and attacked them. He later was shot and killed by sheriff's deputies.

The two youngest of the five Carpenter children were rarely apart, family members said. If you saw one, the other was not far behind.

It seemed fitting, then, that they were buried in a single casket. They lay cradled in each other's arms, dressed in their cowboy clothes. Their cowboy hats -- Ashley's white and John William's black -- sat inside the veiled, open casket. A roll of Certs lay on the boy's chest.

"They didn't live in vain," the children's father said. "They marked our lives for the rest of our lives."

John Carpenter pleaded with the crowd of nearly 1,000 at Apostolic Tabernacle United Pentecostal Church to "start living like my little daughter Ashley did."

She sacrificed her life for others, said the Rev. Tom Driscoll, a family friend. He described the way the feisty girl wrapped her arms around her killer's legs and then yelled to her sisters: "Go! Get away!"

"Ashley was a hero in everything she did," the Rev. Ron Hatley said during his eulogy. "That was her nature to face a challenge. ... One week ago, she was confronted with another challenge and, once again, she was the best at what she did."

She suffered more than 100 stab wounds -- some of them post-mortem -- as she fended off Bruce, 27, while her three older sisters escaped.

The horrific crime captured the attention of the Valley and beyond. In attendance at Wednesday's funeral were numerous out-of-state ministers. There were also people who never knew the children but were deeply affected by their deaths.

Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson told the family: "There is a great big city down south of here that loves you. We feel like your loss is our loss. God bless you, and the people of Fresno are with you."

During the lengthy service, two of the surviving Carpenter children, Vanessa and Jessica, played piano pieces they dedicated to Ashley and John William.

Their father, John, spoke about the two children, his voice breaking: "Words can't describe how I feel right now."

He talked about waking up to the sounds of his wife weeping.

Then, he spoke out firmly against the state of the country, saying America is living under a "cloud of darkness."

"This case is far from over," he said. "The real murderer is still loose. The murderer is the drug dealer who supplied the drugs to the killer. ... It's big business that did this to my children."

Carpenter also said he had a gun at his house that he kept locked away from his children because he feared government laws.

"I didn't put a lock on my pitchfork," he said.

More than anything, Carpenter asked people to follow his daughter's example and get back to the root of the problem: "We need to change the hearts of men."

Hatley recalled several encounters with the children, including a thrilling, four-wheeling adventure with Ashley and John William's desire to "build a house for his momma."

He remembered how the siblings used to approach him at church every Sunday. John William would ask sweetly, "Cert, sir?" And Ashley would stick out her hand, palms upraised.

The story drew a chuckle from the audience that overflowed the church. It was one of a few light moments during a funeral service that began in the morning and stretched into the early afternoon.

As the funeral drew to a close, there was a slide show set to music with numerous photos of the slain children. For nearly two hours, grieving friends and family lined up to view the open casket.

Parents John and Tephanie Carpenter stood for several minutes with their surviving children, arms wrapped around each other for support. And before the funeral director finally closed the casket, he took out some of the children's mementos -- a small leather belt and the child-sized cowboy hats.

"I know without a shadow of a doubt where my children are today," John Carpenter said. "I will always keep you close to my heart."

GRAPHIC: PHOTOS BY CRAIG KOHLRUSS -- THE FRESNO BEE As family friend Meagan Driscoll says her goodbye, John and Tephanie Carpenter release doves at the burial site for two of their children.
SPECIAL TO THE BEE Ashley and John William Carpenter were buried in one casket, wearing their cowboy outfits.
PHOTOS BY JOHN WALKER -- THE FRESNO BEE Vanessa Carpenter, 11, plays a song for her slain brother and sister, Ashley and John William, at their memorial service in Merced. Top: John and Tephanie Carpenter gather with daughters, from left, Jessica, Anna and Vanessa, at the coffin bearing the family's youngest, Ashley and John William. Left: Friends of the Carpenter family raise their hands in prayer during the service in Merced.

From the Fresno Bee (August 31, 2000)
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