Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Preacher implores congregation to see God's will in three deaths


The preacher's theme was anguish, the quiet sadness that pools and poisons the mind. His message, one that many outside the walls of this church in St. Petersburg might find hard to accept, was that the anguished deaths of Dawn Brown and her two young sons were part of a seamless, eternal plan.

At a funeral service Saturday at New Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church, pastor Cedric L. Williams spoke with three caskets before him. Inside were Brown, 34, and her sons, Zander, 9, Zayden, 5.

Listening in the front pew, among the surviving family members, was Murphy Brown, 36, who came home early on the morning of Sept. 22 to discover the bodies of his wife and sons.

According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Dawn Brown killed the two boys before hanging herself at the family's house in Clearwater.

What can be said to help people understand an event that defies understanding? How does one convince the bereaved that providence was at work in those three caskets, piled high with red and white roses?

In a voice that ranged from a pious murmur to a gravelly roar, Williams — an imposing man with a shaven head and football lineman's frame — implored his congregation to see God's will in the reported murder-suicide that claimed three lives.

"Today, it seems like the enemy won," Williams said, producing a spotless white handkerchief at intervals to dab the sweat from his face. But, he continued, "I love that about God. He never leaves us or forsakes us. Even now. He's with us in here. Right now."

Jesus, the crowd cried out. Hallelujah. Murphy Brown slowly nodded his head, as women in wide-brimmed white hats rose and waved their arms in the pews behind him.

"Thank you, Lord. You've been so good. Even now, you've been so good," Williams said.

His sermon was built around a handful of verses from the book of Jeremiah that describe a terrible drought. Williams likened it to the struggle facing many in today's crippled economy, a struggle that family and friends say helped send Dawn Brown into a severe depression.

Relatives say that Brown became hopeless and withdrawn after she was charged with welfare fraud for misrepresenting the family's income to obtain food stamps. At the time she and the boys died, electricity to the family's home had been cut off because of unpaid bills.

"You may not have gotten to the point that you thought about suicide, but you done had some thoughts that ain't right," Williams said.

At one point, he even cited statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the prevalence of depression and suicide.

"I have a feeling that many of us today, though we're here, we have tears that are silent," he said. "God can hear."

After the funeral, Murphy Brown said he felt as if Williams was speaking directly to him.

"I believe he directed that service, a lot of it, to me," Brown said. "To let me know that God has a plan for me. Sometimes it takes bad things, but he always has a plan."

Beyond her depressed state, few clues have emerged as to why Dawn Brown committed the murder-suicide that deputies believe she did.

"Who can say why? My son asked me why, and I couldn't answer him," said Byron Brown, Murphy's father.

But Byron Brown believes, with the rest of his family, that Dawn Brown should be forgiven. That is why, in a development that surprised outsiders, the Brown family chose to have a joint memorial service for Dawn and the boys, and to bury them in adjacent plots.

Sandra Barylski, Dawn's mother, said relatives are even trying to find money for a down payment on a single, shared tombstone.

After the funeral, family members got in their cars and followed three white hearses to Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Pinellas Park.

At a brief burial service, a quartet of young men wearing jeans and dark sunglasses sang Amazing Grace. A man from the funeral home handed Murphy Brown a large white Bible, a gift.

"In this book you'll find all of your peace," he said.

As the survivors watched from folding chairs beneath a canopy of oak boughs, minister Gerald Watson gave a final benediction.

The gleaming blue casket closest to him was breathtakingly small.

"You are the God that never makes a mistake," he said.

Peter Jamison can be reached at or (727) 445-4157.

Preacher implores congregation to see God's will in three deaths 09/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 10:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst


    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.