BREMERTON — There were tears and tearful embraces. There was pain — unfathomable pain — from the loss of four loved ones to violence.
But there was something else very much alive here at GracePoint Church on Feb. 7, something that evil and violence couldn’t snuff out.
Those among the estimated 700 people who gathered to celebrate the lives of John and Christale Careaga and their teenagers, Johnathon Higgins and Hunter Schaap, talked not of death but of love, faith, family and friendship; of life lessons learned working at the family taqueria; of a son’s phone calls just to tell his dad “I love you, Pops.”
John and Christale married on Jan. 19, 2009, creating a blended family of seven children. In Johnathon and Hunter’s complex family network, there are no references to step-siblings, but brothers and sisters. “Blood doesn’t make you family,” Cody Apilado said of Hunter. “I’ve known him since he was eight years old. We slept in the same bed for years. He was my little brother, man,” he said, choking with emotion. “I love you, Hunter.”
As they built their business — Juanito’s Taqueria and Christale’s Java Hut on Kitsap Way — John and Christale Careaga were involved in their children’s lives at home, at school and in the community, family members said.
The family enjoyed gatherings and outings together. Family dinners always began with a blessing, John’s father, Enrique Careaga, said.
Joseph Careaga, a son, said, “My dad was my hero. He was my go-to for everything and anything. There wasn’t ever a problem he couldn’t fix. He always knew exactly what to say. He taught me everything I know, from working on cars to opening doors for ladies. My father was a well-respected man and always held down por la familia. He cared about everyone and was so deeply compassionate … I simply can’t put into words how I really, truly feel. He’ll be missed. They’ll all be missed.”
John and Christale Careaga and their 16-year-old sons were murdered the weekend of Jan. 27; Christale Careaga and their sons were found dead that night in their Seabeck home, which had also been set on fire. John Careaga was found dead in his pickup truck three days later on a tree farm in Mason County; the pickup truck had also been set on fire.
The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department has determined all four were murdered. The investigation continues with the assistance of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab.
At the celebration of life, Hunter’s classmates at North Kitsap High School wore specially made T-shirts and hoodies created in his honor.
The altar was decorated with large pictures of the four, as well as floral displays with gold-lettered ribbons: “Beloved son and brother.” “Beloved father and mother.” “Beloved daughter and niece.” “Beloved mother.”
Family and friends took their seats to Michael Gungor’s “Cannot Keep You,” who sang of a Creator who lifts us from the ashes “and seats them among princes.” Another contemporary song, “You Alone,” told of God as a fortress for the weak, whose strength “carries me when I am on my knees.”
Mike Best, a GracePoint pastor, read Scriptures that spoke of the fleeting nature of life but the eternity that awaits. “the Father of compassion … comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God,” he read from Corinthians.
“God is our refuge and strength,” Best read from Psalms. “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”
Then, a photo slideshow, created by the family, showed highlights from their loved ones’ lives to “Borrowed Angels” by Kristin Chenoweth, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton, “Carrying Your Love with Me” by George Strait, and “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” by Danny Gokey.
Then, after sharing by family members, Pastor Kevin Scruggs tried to make sense of it all. He told of God’s presence during our moments of despair, and used the story of Paul to illustrate his point. Paul, who as Saul had persecuted Christians, was made low — thrown in jail, shipwrecked, even bitten by a snake and left to die. God never abandoned him and eventually raised him up.
Where is God in this tragedy? Quoting Philippians 4:19 — “My God will supply every need of yours” — Scruggs said, “Where is God? Right here, in the very center of your need.”
Pastor Barry Bandara ended the celebration of life with a prayer, talking of the “storm of lost pain and grief” in the community and asking for God to calm this storm just as His son calmed a storm while in a fishing boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, when others with him were struck with fear.
Then, people gathered in the fellowship hall. “It’s amazing to see how this community has come together to support this family,” Scruggs said. “We love this family. We care about this family.”
And the work of love, he said, never ends.
Investigators ask that anyone with information about the murders call Detective Lissa Gundrum at 360-337-5669. Callers can remain anonymous.
Investigators are also seeking video from 7 p.m. Jan. 27 and 2 p.m. Jan. 29 of Holly Road, Lake Tahuyeh Road, Sandhill Road and Seabeck-Holly Road or the general area.
Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound is offering a $4,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect or suspects. Call 1-800-222-TIPS or go to www.crimestoppers.com. Again, callers can remain anonymous.
What others said
“They are now in the hands of our Lord.” — Enrique Careaga, father of John D. Careaga.
“If there is anyone who would say anything unkind or negative in any way about Christale, they obviously didn’t know her and I pity them … There was a lot of love and joy in that home.” — Bill Court, reading a tribute written by his wife, Sheila; they knew Christale Careaga for 17 years.
“It was an honor to know him and his wife Christale. I said to him [during a get-together], ‘I know we’re not family,’ and he said, ‘Carlos, we are family.’ ” — a friend.