"It can't be time to get up already!" I said sleepily as I felt Kathie get out of bed. I looked at the clock--5:00 A.M. As I dozed, I heard Kathie praying aloud.
"Good morning, Lord," she said softly. "May all I do, think, and say today be for Your honor and glory and that of Your Blessed Mother."
Kathie had the morning routine timed just right--making coffee, folding and bagging the newspapers for our daughters Susie and Katie--all before baby Josie would wake up.
Still lying in bed, I heard Kathie calling our children from downstairs, "Susie, Katie, it's quarter to six. Time to get up!"
Katie and Susie usually left the house at 6:00 A.M. for their paper routes, which took them about fifteen minutes.
By 6:25 A.M. Susie was back.
Ten minutes later the phone rang. The caller had not received his paper.
"That's on Katie's route," Kathie said, knowing that our 11-year-old should have been home by then.
Even at this point, Kathie told me later, she knew something was wrong.
I jumped in the car, and as I drove the streets looking for Katie, I prayed, confident that she was safe. Yet the longer I looked, the more frightened I became.
I returned home and called 911, and while awaiting the police, I began praying silently to St. Michael, to Katie's guardian angel, and to our Blessed Mother: Please protect Katie. Lord, I know you wouldn't let anything happen to her.
I decided to drive Katie's route again, and this time, I saw out of the corner of my eye what looked like a carrier bag. I pulled into the driveway of a car wash. Oh, my God, it was a carrier bag! I began to tremble and begged God to protect Katie. I got out of the car, ran over to the bag, and recognized that it was Katie's. Oh, my God. There was blood all over the bag. I picked it up and put it in the trunk. I didn't want Kathie or the kids to see it.
I refused to allow myself to consider the worst possibility. The Lord will take care of everything, I kept telling myself. And didn't He say, "Not a hair on your head would be harmed"?
When the police arrived, I told them about the bag and took them to the place where I had found it. After dropping me back home, the police officers told us we would be kept informed.
A detective arrived shortly after 8:00 A.M.
"A short time ago," he began, "we got a call from a man who saw someone burying what he thought were stolen tools just a few blocks from here. When we investigated, we found the body of a little girl. We have not made a positive I.D., but . . ."
"What does it mean? You think it's Katie?! Oh, no! No . . . no . . . is she alive?" Kathie cried out. The officer remained silent, and we broke out in uncontrollable sobs. It can't be, Lord. Please tell us it isn't so!
It's very hard to describe the darkest day of your life. Kathie and I sat on the couch weeping, alone with our pain and grief - a deep grief that sapped all our hope and strength and all that was good in life.
I wanted to die right there. But we had other children. Even in this moment of utter emptiness and hopelessness, we had to try to control ourselves as we thought of them.
We called the children together. We could see by the fear and sadness in their eyes that Theresa, Danny, and Susie were already thinking the worst. Paul and Maggie could not possibly understand what I was about to tell them.
"Katie won't be coming home," I began. "She's been . . . she's . . ."
We began to weep. We were helpless.
At 9:30 A.M. the police called to inform us that they had arrested a man with a history of sexual crimes. He was identified as the man trying to bury the body of our precious Katie.
The phone began to ring shortly after that. Friends and even strangers began to stop over. The news media also started to call, and camera crews showed up at the house.
I'm the oldest of ten children scattered all over the country, and I knew that each of them must be called. I asked the Holy Spirit to put the words in my mouth and began to make my calls.
We were trying desperately to make sense of everything. Jesus, where are You? We need You so very, very much. What we couldn't understand then was that He was there. He was with us in His priesthood, in His people, our friends, family, neighbors, and most of all, in our suffering.