PLEASANT GARDEN, N.C. » Hundreds of friends, teenagers and teachers filled a North Carolina church Friday to join a family as it buried five children killed in what investigators have described as a family massacre.
Mourners packed into Pleasant Garden Baptist Church to attend the collective funeral for the five children, ages 8 to 17, who authorities say were gunned down in a shooting rampage by Mary Ann Holder, 36. Authorities say Holder apparently shot one of her sons and three other children while they slept at her Pleasant Garden home, shot and wounded her married former lover, then killed her younger son. Holder then killed herself.
Four of the children survived for days with what Sheriff BJ Barnes said were bullet wounds to the head. Holder left two notes apologizing for the pain she’d caused, Barnes said.
So many people attended the funeral in Guilford County that an overflow crowd gathered in the gym of the Family Life Center to watch a live video feed.
Four ministers led the service in the pulpit, under which lay the closed caskets of the five children. Three of the ministers eulogized the child or children they knew best.
Authorities say Holder killed her two sons: Robert Dylan Smith, 17, and Zachary Smith, 14. Barnes said she also killed the niece and nephew she took into her home when her sister died: Richard Brian Suttles, 17, and Hannaleigh Suttles, 8. She also mortally wounded Makayla Leigh Woods, Robert’s 15-year-old girlfriend.
"It takes your breath away," friend Brooke Bex said. "I never thought I’d see my friends in a casket at that age."
Another friend, Adam Couch. was a pallbearer for Dylan Smith. He said he choked up when the family asked him to be part of the memorial.
"I never would have thought in a million years I’d be carrying my best friend to his grave, but I’m honored to do it," Couch said.
Holder’s mother, Frances, said the family was praying that at least one of the children would survive to describe what happened. Frances Holder said she can’t believe her daughter was responsible for the mass killings because she cared deeply for her children.
"People are calling my daughter a deadbeat mother, she was a no-good mother," Frances Holder said Thursday outside the church where mourners visited with the family. "She was very close to her children. I don’t know what happened. I have no answers. I’m waiting for answers, just like everyone else."
Mary Ann Holder had been having an affair with Randall Lamb, 40, for more than three years, and its aftermath created months of bitter accusations involving Holder, Lamb and Lamb’s wife, including allegations of stalking and harassment.
Jennifer Lamb had prepared but not yet filed a potentially costly lawsuit against Holder accusing her of alienating the affections of her husband, investigators said.
Mary Ann Holder met Randall Lamb the night before the shooting rampage to give him a $10,000 check in an apparent settlement aimed at staving off the threatened lawsuit, criminal investigators said in a search warrant. Holder then asked to meet him again the next morning in a community college parking lot.
That meeting ended with Holder firing several shots at Randall Lamb and wounding him in the shoulder. He recovered in a hospital and has returned home.