The Rev. Alan Akridge tried Monday to fathom the unfathomable — the deaths of Jesus Diaz and his young wife Emiko in a murder-suicide early Sunday morning that left his parish at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in shock.
According to police, Jesus Diaz had returned home from a nightshift at a St. Simons Island resort, shot his wife dead, wounded his 6-year-old daughter, Eva Diaz, and then turned the .45 caliber handgun on himself in their unit at Westminster Club Apartments, 3901 U.S. Highway 17.
"It just defies explanation," said Akridge, the rector at St. Mark's in Brunswick. "There's no understanding how or why this could have happened."
Eva was resting comfortably Monday afternoon in the pediatric intensive care unit of a trauma center at a Savannah hospital, Akridge said.
"Her prognosis is good," said Akridge, who has kept in close touch with the girl's grandmother, Janeen Kluska.
Struck by a bullet in the head, little Eva ran to a neighbor's apartment, police said. The neighbors called police at 1:01 a.m. to report they had a child needing medical attention, according a Glynn County police press release. When officers arrived, police "found a 6-year-old child with a gunshot wound to the head," the release stated.
Police then went to the family's apartment unit, where they found Jesus Diaz, 24, and Emiko Diaz, 21, dead in a bedroom. "The preliminary investigation reveals Jesus Diaz shot Eva and Emiko and then shot himself," the police press release stated. The investigation continued Monday.
Emiko had been a faithful member of St. Mark's with her mother, Kluska, as well as her three sisters and a brother, Akridge said. When the siblings were younger, they had joined their mother at Christ Church Frederica on St. Simons Island.
They were rooted in the two churches, Akridge said, and in turn both congregations cared greatly for Emiko's family. In an unpredictably sudden and senseless act of violence, a beloved member of the family is dead and her daughter left parentless.
Akridge and a care team from St. Mark's visited family members Sunday afternoon. They described to Akridge their gratitude for the support of people throughout Glynn County and beyond.
"This tragedy caused significant impact and not only at St. Mark's," Akridge said. "The whole community is suffering ... and no one saw it coming."
Jesus Diaz had talked about his plans to go back to school to help make a better life for his wife and daughter, friends of the couple said.
Emiko Diaz, meanwhile, had graduated from the College of Coastal Georgia in May, having done exceptionally well while caring for her daughter and holding down two jobs.
She had majored in health informatics — a relatively new course of study that is growing rapidly at CCGA, said Lee McKinley, an associate professor who also coordinates the program's bachelor of science degree. McKinley arrived at CCGA a year ago and was struck immediately by Emiko Diaz's resolve and determination.
"Right off the bat, I saw that she was very driven and passionate and dedicated to doing well," McKinley said.
In May, Diaz and fellow classmates traveled to Atlanta with McKinley for a conference related to their new field of study. McKinley was delighted at Diaz's enthusiasm, as well as the attention the young student's resumes drew from companies seeking to interview her.
Diaz had done an internship with Southeast Georgia Health System, focusing on medical records and leaving a strong impression on the staff. When she was not focused on her studies, Emiko devoted her love and energy entirely to family.
"Emiko was so upbeat and so energetic," McKinley said. "But her little girl was her life, her pride and joy. Her family — her mother, sisters and brother — were so supportive of each other."
McKinley nicknamed the ever-upbeat Diaz "Hammy" — a reference to the chipper character of the same name from the animated movie "Over the Hedge."
"She was like that, carrying on five conversations at once," McKinley said, smiling warmly at the memory. "I'll miss talking with her so much."