EL RENO — Standing at the podium Wednesday behind five gold-trimmed ivory caskets, the white-haired Assembly of God pastor seemed almost at a loss for words. "I’ve been searching my heart about what to say and I’ve found some difficulty, I don’t mind saying,” the Rev. Gerald Van Horn said. "I’ve preached a lot of funerals. But none like this.” In the caskets lay the bodies of Summer Rust, 25, and her four children, all found strangled last week in their El Reno apartment. Rust’s boyfriend, Joshua Durcho, 25, has been charged in connection with their deaths. Stuffed animals lined the floor beneath the children’s caskets. Lavender-colored flowers, 7-year-old Autumn’s favorite, rested on top of her casket. There were pink flowers for 7-year-old Kirsten, blue and white for Teagin, 4, the only boy, and yellow flowers for Evynn, 3. And there were photos of each victim on easels. Summer’s flowers were the same shade of purple as the domestic violence ribbons worn by dozens of mourners. More than 400 people gathered in the gym of Redlands Community College, where Rust was a student, to say their collective goodbyes to the family that was slain Jan. 12. Van Horn said he found it hard to believe something so horrific happened in El Reno. But it did happen, Van Horn said, and it raised a question asked by countless others in the last week and a half. "Where was God when all this happened?” It was a question for which Van Horn didn’t have an easy answer, but he said he knew without a doubt that whatever the plan was before Wednesday, God is with the slain family now. "God’s not far away,” he whispered. "God is here. Life will not be the same, but I tell you today, God feels our pain and our hurt.” As he spoke, smiling images of Summer and her children were projected on a screen above him. Friends and family members passed tissues. Music chosen for the service was sometimes upbeat, sometimes somber and almost unbearable for some as they listened to the lyrics of Creed’s "Don’t Stop Dancing,” which asks that despite all the evil and heartache in the world, children never stop dancing or believing they can fly. It was a sentiment Van Horn admitted he was having trouble dealing with, too — the slayings of young children. "These children — their lives have been taken in innocence,” the pastor said. "These little ones are now safe in the arms of Jesus, and no one can harm them now.” Van Horn said the word that best fit Summer Rust was "devoted.” He said the mother did her best to care for her children, work and go to school. "She was devoted to making all of their lives better,” he said. Van Horn acknowledged that Rust did not always make the best choices, but he said she loved her children and she was devoted to her friends, her family and her faith. When the service ended, more than 60 motorcycle riders, including members of Bikers Against Child Abuse, chartered out of El Reno, escorted the funeral procession to the El Reno Cemetery. Biker spokesman Bruce Horn said the group’s main focus is to empower children who suffer abuse, and funeral processions are not the type of thing the group usually does, but the group was asked to participate. "This community has been devastated and horrified,” Horn said. "We pull together in times of need. That’s all we can do.”
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