Family and towns mourn Parsons mother, three children

12/02/2013 10:16 AM

12/03/2013 4:38 PM

Correction: Donald Betts is the father of the three children. His first name was incorrect in a previous version of this story.

A veil of grief hung over Thayer Christian Church as a pair of southeastern Kansas towns bid farewell to a family found slain last week in their Parsons home.

A few hundred people packed into the pews of the tiny Neosho County church to pay tribute on Monday to 29-year-old Cami Umbarger and her three young children, Hollie, Jaxon and Averie Betts.

At the front of the church, flowers surrounded a pair of white caskets. Both carried handwritten messages of love and promises to remember scrawled in ink across their gleaming surfaces. Each held two members of the slain family.

David Camp, the church’s minister, called the joint funeral service “a bittersweet moment.”

“Four beautiful people – a mom and three babies – gone,” he told those in attendance. “(Theirs is) a love that will continue through all eternity and cannot be stopped by sin of any variety.”

During the service, tears flowed freely as family and friends recalled Umbarger as a devoted nurse who possessed an overwhelming passion for motherhood. A round-cheeked toddler, she had spent part of her childhood in Thayer, graduating from the high school there in 2002.

A year later, she moved to Parsons, where the family ultimately made their home. She earned an associate’s degree in nursing in 2006 and worked as a licensed practical nurse at two Parsons facilities.

Hollie, the oldest of Umbarger’s children with their father, Donald Betts, was born in 2004. Jaxon followed in 2007. Averie came just two years later. The children were students at Lincoln and Guthridge elementary schools in Parsons.

“Averie was always so sassy,” Camp said, reading a list of memories contributed by family and friends. Always a talker, the vibrant preschooler “loved to converse with anyone,” he added.

Of kindergartener Jaxon, just 6 when he died, Camp recalled confidence, a fondness for wrestling and a love of exaggeration.

“He liked to say he was the strongest man in the world,” Camp said with a chuckle. “He thought he was hot stuff.”

Hollie, already tough even at the tender age of 9, devoted herself to basketball and tackle football, Camp said. When the fourth-grader wasn’t wrapped up in sports, she also enjoyed a good game of cops and robbers.

“She always wanted to see justice,” Camp said. “Don’t mess with Hollie.”

He made no pause or apology when referencing the family’s accused killer.

“I know a guy who will see justice,” Camp said.

The man suspected of killing Umbarger and the children was arrested at gunpoint in Independence the day after the four were found dead in their Parsons home on Nov. 25.

A few hours before their funerals Monday, Labette County District Court Judge Robert Fleming granted the state additional time to file formal charges against 22-year-old Cherryvale resident David Cornell Bennett Jr. Fleming attributed the delay to closed courts over the Thanksgiving holiday and “the complicated nature of the case.”

Bennett, who is being held in the Labette County Jail on a $5 million bond, is due back in court on Dec. 10, the deadline for prosecutors to file formal charges.

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