PINEHURST — The three caskets entered Sacred Heart Catholic Church, reminiscent of the way Shan’ann Watts and her two daughters — Bella and Celeste — had died: one by one and close to one another.
Shan’ann’s wooden casket, bearing her and unborn son, Nico, lay in the center. Bella’s and Celeste’s silver-colored caskets lay to the right and left, respectively. As the Mass progressed, each was overlaid with a white pall representing resurrection of the body and soul, and each alternately was blessed by holy water and wafted with the smoke of scented palms by officiant the Rev. John Forbes.
“For God’s faithful people,” Forbes proclaimed in his sermon, “life has changed, not ended. Even Jesus did not expect to escape the mystery of suffering and death.
“When we die, we go to God,” Forbes said, calling to mourners’ minds the image of a loving parent’s receiving the new and innocent body of a much-anticipated child.
Forbes made only an oblique reference to the family members’ manner of death, saying that God gave humanity a “free will” that allowed for sin and evil to enter their lives.
“Death may take our earthly life,” he said then, “but it cannot take away our eternal life.”
Shan’ann Watts’s immediate family — father Frank Rzucek, mother Sandra and brother Frankie — as well as pallbearers flanked the caskets in the church’s front pews, the family to the left and the pallbearers, some snuffling into tissues and a couple with their arms thrown around each other for support, to the right.
The family, residents of Aberdeen and members of the smaller St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Southern Pines, had asked to move the funeral, anticipating a crowd bigger than their church could hold. Several hundred were in attendance Saturday.
(Seventy-thousand people watched the funeral live-streamed on Spectrum television, Forbes told congregants on Sunday. At that point in the late morning, he said, about 150,000 people had logged on to watch some portion of the service.)
Shan’ann Watts, Forbes reminded congregants during Saturday’s funeral, “was a woman of life (and) of determination.” Bella and Celeste were “lights for all around them.” Nico was eagerly awaited as, possibly, the last child Shan’ann would have before the progression of her Lupus made further childbirths too dangerous.
Despite their loss and their understandable anger, Forbes said, the Rzuceks “would like some good to come from this tragedy. (They) do not desire vengeance and death, but justice and light.”
The Rzuceks asked that donations be made to the Lupus Foundation of America; the St. Jude Children’s Hospital; and the Missing Persons Division of the Frederick, Colorado, Police Department, which found the bodies of the two girls in oil barrels and their mother, in a shallow grave, days after husband and father Christopher Watts reported they went missing from home on Aug. 13.
In messages inscribed on funeral programs, Frank Rzucek left butterfly kisses for his daughter, and promised (as PopPop) his granddaughters to cherish and protect a bear and toy truck. Sandra Rzucek thanked God for the family she had been given. And brother Frankie mourned the loss of his sister, mentor and best friend.
Notably missing from any direct mention among the survivors of the slain family was Christopher Watts, who at first claimed his wife and daughters were missing but later admitted to killing Shan’ann, saying he had discovered her smothering the couple’s second daughter – he said the first was lying blue on a bed — and then strangled her in a fit of rage.
Watts has not entered a plea to murder and other felony charges and is being held without bail.
Shan’ann, Celeste, Bella and Nico Watts now lie buried in a Moore County cemetery, borne there by three identical white hearses with hundreds of mourners following in their wake.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]