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Murder by Family: The Incredible True Story of a Son's Treachery and a Father's Forgiveness Hardcover – September 23, 2008

3.7 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
"A Mother's Reckoning" by Sue Klebold
For the first time, Sue Klebold recounts the days and months leading up to Columbine based on her own recollections and the journals and videos her son left behind. Learn more | See related books

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Mr. Kent Whitaker, a lifelong resident of Houston, Texas, graduated from the University of Houston in 1971. A former comptroller of a major construction company before he retired, he now devotes his time to church and various community organizations. He enjoys cycling, water sports, and restoring classic cars.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1


I had always heard that your life flashed before your eyes. But that's not what happened as I lay on the cold concrete that December night, watching the blood from a gunshot wound cover my white shirt. Instead, I found myself praying for my family. There had been four shots, one for each of us.

I told God that if it was my time, I was ready to die, but I prayed that he would spare my wife and two sons. I called to each of them but got no response except for a few quiet, wet coughs from my wife, Tricia. Although I couldn't see her from where I had fallen, I knew that it was her because when I had first tried to get up, I saw her blond hair splayed out on the threshold of our home's front door. Though I had never heard that kind of cough before, I instinctively knew it was the sound of a person trying to clear lungs filling with blood. The silence coming from the dark house was horrible. My God, I thought, he's shot us all.

Life can change in a moment. Just seconds earlier we had been a happy family of four returning from a surprise dinner celebrating our older son Bart's anticipated college graduation. He had called that afternoon, telling Tricia that he was through with exams and was coming home for the evening. We had enjoyed a great seafood dinner, including a dessert with "Congratulations!" written with chocolate syrup on the plate's edge. I snapped a few pictures, and then we took the short drive home. How strange that those would be the last photos we would ever have together.

As we got out of the car, our younger son, Kevin, a sophomore in college, led the way to our front door. He stepped inside, with Tricia right behind him. I heard a huge noise, but I didn't immediately recognize it as a gunshot. A moment of silence, and then Tricia exclaimed, "Oh, no!" as another shot was fired. I still didn't understand what was happening. I stepped forward and for the first time saw inside the house. The light from the front porch illuminated a ski-masked figure about eight feet away, standing next to the stairs. I couldn't see Kevin, though he was lying in the shadows next to where the man was standing -- or Tricia, who must have been right by my feet. I just stood there wondering which one of Kevin's goofball friends was playing a joke on us with the paintball gun.

Suddenly I was slammed in the shoulder with enough force to send me spinning back and to my left. Landing faceup on the front porch, I still didn't grasp what was happening. As I tried to get up, I felt a searing pain in my right arm and realized it was badly broken. A fourth shot rang out as comprehension flooded in. We had been shot. We had all been shot. It struck me that I might be dying.

Then my neighbor Cliff was kneeling over me, comforting me. "Don't worry, buddy! Help is on the way!"

In the distance I heard sirens as Cliff pulled off his T-shirt and pressed it to my wound. I realized then that no one knew where the shooter was and that Cliff might be in danger. I panicked. "Get out of here! He may still be inside!"

Cliff told me to hold on and ran home. Moments later a squad car pulled up in front of our house, and then another, and a third. I was aware of more sirens, including the deep foghorn of a fire truck, but they were still far away. With heightened senses I heard muffled footfalls as police ran into and around the house, guns drawn and flashlights flicking illumination into the shadows. After only a minute or two someone called out that the house was clear. By then the whole cul-de-sac that faced our home was full of emergency vehicles. It couldn't have been more than five minutes since the shootings.

People were everywhere. Neighbors were streaming out of their homes while paramedics swarmed. Two men worked on me, cutting away my leather jacket and my shirt, trying to stop the bleeding. I repeatedly asked for information on my family, and finally one of the paramedics quietly said, "Sir, please, let us do our job. You're in good hands, and lots of good folks are with the rest of your family."

Then, over all the confusion and noise, as they hurried inside the house, I heard one policeman ask another, "What do you want to do about the DOA?"

My heart froze. Dead on arrival. I knew that at least one of my family members had died. But which one? And why? Were they all dead?

The sound of a helicopter cut through the night, and I saw the landing lights and then the cherry-red body of Life Flight. Three paramedics raced a gurney down the sidewalk, and one of the police officers told me that they were taking Tricia to the hospital. My heart leaped with joy, because that meant she was still alive. Thank God! But then I realized that this also meant that at least one, and by now perhaps both, of my boys were dead. I began to shake all over and knew I was going into shock. I chattered to the paramedics that I was freezing and that they had better get something to cover me. They replied that as soon as Tricia's took off, a second Life Flight would land for me.

What? Life Flight for me? Was I hurt worse than I realized? Did this mean that both boys were already dead, and there was no need for them to be flown to the medical center?

I really didn't have time to think about it: with a storm of air and sound, the helicopter took off, and moments later a second one landed. I was put on a gurney, covered with warm sheets and a blanket, and stowed in the back. With the high-pitched scream of jet turbines, we took off and began our eight-minute flight to the Houston Medical Center, part of perhaps the finest network of hospitals in the country. If anyone could keep my family alive, the medical staff there could.


As we flew, I caught occasional glimpses of freeways and buildings through the copilot's floor windows. My mind jumped back six months to my only other helicopter ride. The boys and I were in Colorado, on an adventure to celebrate my fifty-fifth birthday. We spent one day mountain biking and another racing along challenging trails on four-wheel ATVs. But my favorite part of the trip was the two days of intense white-water rafting on the Arkansas River as it snaked through the Royal Gorge. While on the river, we saw a sleek red helicopter crest the gorge 1,100 feet above us, roll into a steep dive, and pull up just before hitting the river. It rocketed fifty feet over us, blasting us with downdraft. All six of us guys in the raft went wild.

The next day we took the ride.

It was like a roller coaster without tracks. Incredible! The boys and I enjoyed it so much that we did it again two days later before coming home; it was one of the most wonderful memories of my life. But as I looked out at the lights of the hospital landing pad, remembering that fantastic trip, I felt as though I were watching the home videos of some other person; there was just no connection. I was numb.


It took only a moment for the trauma team to whisk me inside, where I was surrounded by doctors and nurses -- none of whom would tell me anything about my family. The next thing I knew, my mom and dad were there. Someone from the hospital administration arrived, and when I asked her about my wife and sons, she told me not to worry: my son Bart was being transferred by ambulance and would arrive shortly. He would be treated in this same room, just a few feet from me. That told me everything. They were only working on two of us.

I turned to my parents. "Mom, I think there's a good chance that Tricia and Kevin are dead." Turning to the woman from administration, I asked, "Isn't that so?" She looked at me for a long moment, nodded her head, and said that it was.

Bart was wheeled into the room a few moments later. I learned that he had rushed into the dark house and, in an apparent scuffle with the shooter, had been shot in the left arm. He was in shock, reacting to the horror of everything. The trauma team scurried around, cleaning wounds and applying temporary casts, since both of us had broken arms. The bullet had entered my right shoulder and traveled through the arm muscle, striking midhumerus and shattering the bone. Bart's upper left arm was broken where the bullet had hit. Amid the organized chaos, things began to sink in; God was allowing the truth to come a little at a time.

I felt God's presence and comfort. On the one hand I was beginning to absorb how radically things had changed, while on the other I had a calm assurance that I was not alone and that God would knit whatever happened into his plans for good. Scriptures of comfort came to mind. It was as if God gave me a shot of emotional Novocain. Even though I was becoming more aware of the extent of the tragedy, I trusted God.

Before I knew it, I was being wheeled out of the trauma center and into a corridor. As we passed through the big emergency room doors, I was met by forty or fifty friends. Rolling through a canyon of loved ones, I was touched by the grief and worry in their eyes, and began to comfort them. I can't explain it; the words just came out. My response was unexpected and somewhat out of character.

Later that night, after the nurses had gone, I was finally alone with my thoughts. I lay there trying to wrap my mind around it all -- and wasn't doing a very good job. Piece by piece the reality settled onto my soul.


My wife, my lover, my best friend, the one who knew and loved me better than any other, to whom I had been true for twenty-eight years, was dead. My son Kevin, with his in-credible Christian faith, his crazy, fun-loving personality, and his passion for sports and the outdoors, would never graduate from college, marry, or give us grandchildren. Bart was down the hall suffering a grief and shock that seemed even more intense than what I was feeling. At fifty-five, I would be facing the last third of my life without most of my family.

For years I have told people that faith is not a feeling but a conscious act of will. You have to choose to trust and believe, espec... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Howard Books (September 23, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416578137
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416578130
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,290,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Should you read this book? If you are interested in true crime as I am and in particular, interested in reading about murders that take place among family members, then I think you would be interested in reading this book. This is not a great book but it is interesting. It is an attempt to delve into the mind of a father who is hurting and who has an unconditional love for his son. The book is riddled with excuse after excuse after excuse for the murdering son Bart but comes down heavily on the young man who actually pulled the trigger. I, myself, had a lot of difficulty reading this book. I have children who are around the same age as Bart when he commissioned this heinous crime. I am not a forgiving person and so, as I read this book, I was very frustrated and found myself wincing several times (for example, when Bart was about to get married). If one of my children committed a crime of this magnitude against me or his/her siblings, I would hope that my spouse wouldn't presume to speak for me in death - I don't want to go to Disney World early (Kent Whitaker's take on his wife and son's deaths). I'm not sure I'm giving you my Death Penalty opinion or giving a book review. Am I talking about justice or forgiveness? I had to read this book - I will read every book that comes out about Bart Whitaker - a scary person who now regrets his actions (thank goodness for Rudy Rios or a murderer would still be loose). I can only think about his brother Kevin and how he lost his young life due to hate and selfishness (quite frankly, even after reading the book, I'm still not sure why all this happened). As a parent, I did learn a few lessons from this book - for example, don't be too generous with your kids - they may misinterpret your generosity. I wish Kent wrote a more comprehensive book.Read more ›
8 Comments 49 of 51 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
wow. i finished this book in 3 sittings. it was impossible to put it down. the unraveling of this story was absolutely an incredible process of unimaginable events. it was hard for me to understand why kent whitaker wrote this book. as i've researched into it, the situation seems that "it is his dog, he doesn't want anyone else to kick it..." Kent has donated every penny of his revenue from this book to charity. wow... i still cannot fathom losing my whole family... his ability to continue to live a tremendous testimony to his faith...
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The author of this book has no doubt suffered one of the greatest trajedies that could happen to anyone. The most important word in the book, however, is "I" which may not answer why all people become psychopaths, but explains a lot in this case. The author slings mud at some of the best criminal defense attorneys in Houston, the prosecutor's office, the police and most interestingly his in laws, for whom he relied on for a job for over 30 years. By his own admission he told his son where he could get money to flee the country. Several items are particularly noteworthy-he seems more concerned about never having grandchildren, than having one son dead and one in prison. He shows hardly any compassion for his dying wife who apparently was still alive when she was taken to the hospital. He runs down the Texas prison system ("no Holiday Inn"). His son is a murder and we taxpayers have to pay for ridding him from society so he won't kill anyone else. It is ludicrous how he repeatedly equates himself to David in the Bible. What he doesn't tell us is his repeated failures as a father. A kid growing up who repeatedly broke into school, who had tried to kill his family several times before succeeding, dropped out of college without his parents even knowing about it and who did who knows how many other bad things before murdering his family. Even in the end the author focuses on himself-llok at what a great guy I am for forgiving my son and now I spend my time feeding the poor. We can learn a lot from this book about our society-"I" parents produce "I" kids.
2 Comments 15 of 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
I confess that I read this book with a desire to understand what made Bart--the son of the author and the one who conceived the plan to kill his family--work. Rather, I found this was a book more about the spiritual journey of the father. I cannot imagine writing a book like this and I confess to feeling bad about giving the book only two stars. Still, like other reviewers, I wanted to know about Bart's childhood and more about what made him tick. One chapter does talk about what lies under the mask, and while this was revealing, the book does not explore the genesis of Bart's detachment from self.

If you are seeking to understand how a father can forgive, I recommend this book as Mr. Whittaker talks in detail of how God sovereignly allowed different circumstances and events to happen as they did and how He used them to show Mr. Whittaker that He is in charge and although we may not understand, He is all about His own glory. Mr. Whittaker also is very candid about his own anger and confusion and clearly states that some of this anger was based on not knowing all that the police knew.

If you are looking to understand the mind of a killer, you only get one chapter in the book to illumine that question.
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