Faith sustains Westfield family after tragedy
Where is God on your worst day? Todd Erb would say He's right beside him. Never left him. In fact, God's been carrying Todd since the day that changed his life forever.
On December 20, 2013, someone came into Todd Erb's Westfield home and murdered his wife Marylyn and daughter Kelley. The day after Christmas, police arrested 21-year-old Christian Rene Haley for the crimes. According to court documents, the suspect worked three months at the Sundown Gardens landscape business co-owned by Todd Erb before getting fired for attendance problems.
Now, for the first time, Todd Erb and his two other children are speaking out publicly about their faith through the tragedy and the women they lost.
"Loving people. Just really what I would describe as the light and salt of the earth," said Todd Erb. "If you could label anyone as the most kind, the most thoughtful, the most generous, in terms of both of them, that's exactly how I think of them and what I would say about them."
Fifty-two-year-old Marylyn Erb was a stay-at-home mom. A proud grandma. She loved her kids and they loved her.
"She was always my go-to person to talk about anything. The smallest thing. What I'm cooking for dinner," said Lindsey Myers.
"A huge amount of support and encouragement for me has been lost. It's difficult to not have your mom to help you out with whatever might be going on, especially away at college," said Marylyn's son Brock Erb.
Twenty-three-year-old Kelley Erb was a student at Ivy Tech and pursuing her degree in Early Childhood Education. She was also her brother's best friend.
"She was no doubt, an incredible sister and a great friend to me. I just miss my best friend to come home to," said Brock Erb. "We grew up doing everything together, playing games, playing with toys and playing out in the yard. That friendship is frankly, what I miss the most."
Todd Erb says he and his wife built their marriage on a faith centered upon Christ.
"In our home and we wanted to reflect that within our marriage and we wanted to reflect that with our kids. We brought them up, sent them to Christian school through Heritage Christian and solidified the things we were teaching here at home," said Todd Erb.
The family gathered in their Westfield home to talk openly about their faith journey since their loved ones were murdered.
"When things happened early on, I would have to admit I was confused about things. Didn't really know what purpose was in it, what plans God may have. Not only does it feel like God's been beside me but He's been carrying me the whole time. There's a verse in Isaiah 41:10 that says, 'Do not be afraid for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will hold onto you with my righteous right hand.' And it feels like that's what He's done with me. He's held onto me," said Todd Erb.
"After this incident, faith for me has become so much more real. It's become the only source of strength to get you through the day," said Brock Erb.
For Todd Erb, the strength comes from prayer.
"I never ever blamed God for this. Never accused Him of having caused this in any way. It's just something that happened and something I believe He allowed to happen," said Todd Erb. "Certainly anybody might stand back and ask the big question, why? Why would something like this happen? Or why could something like this happen? But I never questioned God as far as my faith weakening or blaming him because I really feel like He has plans for everything. Even in this incident, I believe there are plans that He has for myself and really the rest of my family. I think that's still being revealed. I can't say that I've figured it out in the last four months, but things are still being revealed."
The family has felt the prayers.
"Armies of people all over the world that have lifted this family up. They can't get them off their mind," said Dr. Kent Erb, a cousin of Todd Erb.
Todd Erb says he draws strength from reading the Bible.
"It really reminds me of the story of Job, how God allowed Satan to test Job. I feel much the same way. Everything Job had - possessions, health, family - was taken from him. God's challenge to Satan was test my servant Job and see if he doesn't curse you. Satan's challenge was he will curse you God. Job never did through all of His tests and all the things that he went through," said Todd Erb.
Erb says he decided to talk publicly about his faith in order to try and make a positive contribution to the community in the wake of the violence.
"If someone can hear words of faith and to be encouraged, that's the kind of message I'd like to portray," said Todd Erb.
Immediately after the murders, Todd Erb stayed at his daughter's home. When Erb decided to return to the house where the murders took place, Christian friends came to help and pray.
"We literally went through each and every room of the house and prayed over each room in each house that any evil that entered would flee in the name of Jesus Christ. That was extremely comforting. It was almost immediately after that time of prayer, I just felt a strong peace and a comfort level that I hadn't felt prior," said Todd Erb.
Todd Erb has returned to work at Sundown Gardens and ultimately decided to remain in the home as a way of standing up against the person accused of taking away so much of his life. Todd says he makes the choice to be positive.
"Negative thoughts, negative reactions, negative attitudes only embitter myself and are only going to embitter the people that I'm around. I frankly don't want any part of that negativity. I don't want to fall into a depression to say woe is me. Look at me, I deserve to be down or depressed because of the magnitude of what's happened. I just have never felt that way," said Todd Erb.
Not long after the murders, something sweet took place 1,600 miles away from Indiana. Friends traveling to Haiti named a school in Kelley's honor, knowing how much she loved children and early childhood education.
"Kelley Erb had a heart for children. You meet kids that you know are teachers. Hopefully, they'll go into education. She was one of those. She was a child whisperer, especially with little ones," said friend Karen Smith who traveled with her family to Haiti. "I thought, we're starting this school in this orphanage and they have nothing and we're bringing everything, starting from scratch, perhaps I can name it and it could be in her honor. I wanted to do something for her family. There is no card on the face of the earth, no flower arrangement, there is nothing that can speak the words that you want to say, and until I had that Holy Spirit pushing on my heart, I was at a loss what I could do for the beautiful Erb family. So now, there's an actual school with the most adorable little children and there's a little ray of light in a dark corner of the world and it's in her honor."
Todd Erb remembers seeing the pictures of the Haiti school named for his daughter.
"Fighting through the tears as I was looking through those pictures and reading her card, our hearts were just overjoyed really. The tears were tears of joy," said Todd Erb.
Later this year, the focus will turn toward the criminal trial and the man accused of committing the murders. But, Todd Erb does not want to speak specifically about it.
"That individual will have his day in court and he will be under a jury of his peers. And whatever their judgement is going to be man's judgement in a court of law. I really view when things are all said and done, that God will have the final judgement," said Todd Erb.
Until then, the family knows they are not in control. Yet, they know who is.
"I would say that I felt compelled to rely upon, lean upon God and my faith more, absolutely more than in any other time in my life. I have no other perspective or no other choice other than to trust God. I don't know of any other earthly thing that I could lean upon that would bring any more peace or any more comfort or any more assurance," said Todd Erb.
"My salvation tells me that my future home is in heaven. That I will be with my wife and with my daughter someday and rejoice with them knowing they're rejoicing right now. That gives me a great deal of peace while I remain here on earth," said Todd Erb.
"(Todd) knows God didn't waste this. He has complete, 100 percent faith that God will somehow cause this to impact lives for His kingdom, for His good," said Dr. Kent Erb.
Todd Erb's children talked about how their faith has been tested.
"After this incident, faith for me has become so much more real. It's become the only source of strength to get you through the day and the only thing that gets you out of bed. It's everything," said Brock Erb. "Although it rocks your world and changes everything outwardly, inwardly in terms of growing in faith, I've come a long way from before this happened to now. As far as asking questions, the biggest question I find myself asking is what does God want to happen from all this? And if so, how can I be preparing myself to be obedient to that. Really, there are two options, running to God and clinging to him or trying to find fulfillment in anything but God which ultimately isn't going to lead to what you're looking for."
"I feel like my faith has definitely grown. I've had the foundation all my life of believing in God and trusting in Him. With this happening, it has grown my faith and deepened in such a profound way. Where else do I have to go but to trust in God that He has a plan and a purpose through all that has happened," said Lindsey Myers. "I know 100 percent that my mom and sister are in heaven because they were believers of God. Being a Christ follower, I know I will be with them one day and I will be able to see them again. It's just such a comfort to know I have that hope and I have that assurance."
Marylyn's two children say they are relying on scripture with the hope of one day helping other people.
"There's a passage in 2nd Corinthians 1 that talks about God comforts us in order for us to grow and comfort other people. Right now, it's extremely painful and God is right there comforting me. Maybe somewhere down the road I will be given the opportunity to help somebody else," said Lindsey Myers.
"The Psalms, for me, have been influential to me. There are so many verses that talk about how God will uphold you. He's there for the broken and the broken-hearted. Just about every Psalm I read has a whole new meaning for my own life," said Brock Erb. "There's another verse Romans 8:28 that says, 'And we know that in all things God works together for good for those who've been called according to his purpose.' That was a verse that someone challenged me to memorize early on. It's going to stick with me for the rest of my life."
Marylyn's son had a final message for the community.
"I personally would like to say thank you to all the people out there that have been praying for us and our family. I owe a huge thank you to a lot of people up at Purdue that have been surrounding me and helping me function on a daily basis. Those prayers have certainly been answered. God has been right there through this whole thing," said Brock Erb.
"They've passed the test. This is the test of a lifetime. Most of us won't have a test close to this," said Dr. Kent Erb.