By Melody Pfaffenberger
On November 14, 2006, Angelica Alvarez was found unconscious in the basement of her Elkhart, Ind. home, next to the bodies of her four children, Jennifer Lopez, 8, Gonzalo Lopez, 6, Daniel Valdez, 4, and Jessica Valdez, 2. Alvarez is accused of strangling the children before attempting to take her own life.
The tragic story of an apparent murder-suicide attempt provided the Osceola (Ind.) Grace Brethren Church (GBC) an opportunity to open their doors to the Hispanic community and to provide continued contact with the Mexican fathers of the four children.
Four years ago, Alvarez began attending English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the Osceola church. While she was in class, her two older children participated in Awana Club, a ministry for kids. Then, for more than a year, they didn’t come.
Last fall, she showed up for class but found a Spanish Bible study in its place. Pastor Brian Baughman, the director of Spanish Ministries, invited her to stay.
Baughman noticed she came for three weeks then disappeared again. Some of the ladies who worked in the same factory as Alvarez, reported she had stopped coming to work, as well.
Then Baughman learned she had been found with her children. It marked the beginning of what the pastor has called a “two week nightmare.”
“It’s hard to remember everything that happened during that period,” he recalls. “We were making funeral arrangements, meeting with the fathers, Gonzalo Lopez and Fernando Valdez, doing media interviews, and trying to avoid family and social difficulties,” he adds. (The incident, including the funeral service, received considerable media coverage in northern Indiana.)
Admittedly, Baughman had had very little contact with the men before that fateful day. He recalls seeing Valdez with Alvarez at church one Sunday, and Lopez attended soccer games hosted at the church. Other than that, Baughman never saw them.
After November 14, Baughman and the members of Osceola GBC took it upon themselves to help in any way needed. He remembers how the entire church, both Anglo and Latin, rose to the occasion.
“It was phenomenal to witness,” he recalls.
Visitation with the family were held at the church. “It was nothing like an American viewing,” comments Baughman. “It was scheduled from 2 to 11 p.m. and everyone stayed the entire time.”
He notes that in Mexico, visitation would last into the night. Typically, a priest would come and recite the entire rosary.
That evening family and friends crowded into the Osceola church facility on Apple Road. Around nine o’clock Baughman realized attendees were waiting for someone to speak.
“Since there wasn’t a priest, I had the opportunity to share the gospel,” he recalls. “Everyone was listening,” he said. “You could have heard a pin drop.”
The funeral was held at a nearby Catholic church. Baughman participated in the service, which was held in Spanish, and once again shared the message of Jesus Christ.
Baughman has taken an interest in the fathers of the children. He says that Lopez has found a spiritual family in the Sunday morning Hispanic ministry at Osceola GBC.
Valdez attends a weekly Thursday morning in-home Bible study, which is also attended by several men from his hometown in Mexico.
“If anyone needs prayer, though,” Baughman continues, “it’s Angelica. You can’t imagine the pain, hurt, and anguish she is going through.” The pastor visited her in the Elkhart County Jail where she awaited trial. He notes that “she is under immense spiritual attack. Every day is a struggle to survive.” (An Elkhart County judge has since ordered her to be committed to the state Division of Mental Health to determine if there is a probability she could become competent to stand trial in the “foreseeable future,” according to the Associated Press.)
Amidst the tragedy, both Lopez and Valdez have forgiven Alvarez, and hold no malice against her, according to Baughman.
During the spring 2007 semester, Melody Pfaffenberger was an editorial intern with the Brethren Missionary Herald Company. She is a rising senior at Grace College from Mishawaka, Ind.