Mac Engel

They lost their parents in a murder-suicide. Now the Durrett Foundation is stepping up

Brothers Maddox, right, and Paxton Kesner of Fort Worth were left without parents when, on Sept. 10, 2017, their father shot and killed their mother in a vacant Fort Worth library parking lot. He committed suicide shortly thereafter.
Brothers Maddox, right, and Paxton Kesner of Fort Worth were left without parents when, on Sept. 10, 2017, their father shot and killed their mother in a vacant Fort Worth library parking lot. He committed suicide shortly thereafter. Dee Gibson

There is no proper way to explain to a child that not only was their mother shot and killed, but it was their dad who pulled the trigger and did the same thing to himself.

There is the matter of dealing with your own personal pain and grief from losing your daughter and the reality that the person responsible for your anguish is the father of the two grandsons you are raising.

This is the scenario Dee Gibson faced on the morning of Sept. 10, 2017, when she received word that her daughter Krista Copeland had died from two gunshots by her ex-husband in a vacant Fort Worth library parking lot.

Minutes later, Copeland's ex-husband, Brian Kesner, 38, took his own life. The couple's oldest son, Maddox, hid behind a tree during the exchange.

"The hardest thing was having to (later) tell (the youngest son, 4-year-old Paxton)," Gibson said as her voice cracked. "I sat him in my lap, and he was playing with a toy in his hands, and I said, 'Mommy is not coming back home.' He said, 'Why?' I said, 'Because daddy shot her.'"

Krista Copeland was 28.

Gibson and her husband of 15 years, Ron, took in the two boys, and their lives have been a collection of cries, hugs and endless emotions ever since.

The family will be recognized before the Texas Rangers' home game on Wednesday as the recipient of the annual Do It For Durrett Foundation gift that aids families in need.

The gift is $50,000.

This is the first interview Gibson and her family have given.

'Pennies from heaven'

Ron and Dee told their grandsons that when they find a penny, keep it.

"We tell them those pennies are from mommy," she said. "Pennies from heaven."

On Father's Day, Ron received a phone call from his daughter. Then he received a phone call from his stepdaughter Heather, Krista's sister. After that, he walked into the garage and found a penny.

"I have officially heard from all three of my daughters today," he told Dee.

Ron and Dee sit at a McDonald's PlayLand while their two grandsons play; Maddox, 9, plays on an iPad while Paxton plays with other kids.

Down the street on Hulen Avenue in Fort Worth is the library parking lot where Krista was shot. The parking lot is one of only countless emotional triggers the family navigates daily.

That morning ... that morning ... where does one start? Maddox was with his dad, Paxton with Dee.

Brian and Krista divorced near the start of 2017, and for the previous several months, Brian had not spent much time with the two boys. That September weekend, Krista had asked her ex-husband to spend time with their oldest son because she felt he needed it.

Brian readily agreed. And Maddox wanted to spend time with his dad. That morning, Brian sent Krista a text requesting a meeting in the vacant library parking lot, which was close to her house.

Krista told her boyfriend she "would be right back" and did not take her purse. Her plan was to attend church that morning.

"She should have stayed home," Maddox said as he played on his iPad, partially listening to the conversation.

"Nobody knew," Dee said. "Truthfully, he could have come to our house, gone into a rage and shot us all. I'm so thankful the boys are still here."

The specific details on this meeting have been a source of rumor and speculation; part of Maddox's counseling included writing down what he saw and heard that morning.

"She told (Maddox) to get out of the car. He got out of the car and went to Brian's truck," Dee said. "Brian got out of the car and I guess they were arguing. She told (Maddox), 'Get out of the car.' Brian said, 'No, you stay in the car.' Then Krista raised her voice and said, 'Maddox, get out of the car now!'

"He got out of the car, and he saw the gun. And he hid behind a tree and closed his eyes. Then he heard the shots. When he opened his eyes, he saw his mom, but he thought she had ducked out of the way."

Brian shot Krista twice in the head. He then got into his own truck and drove it a few spots down in the parking lot. He called 911 and said, "I just killed Krista Copeland." He then killed himself.

Because the library is located by churches and a synagogue and it was a Sunday morning, multiple police officers were near to direct traffic. Seconds after Brian Kesner took his own life, police officers arrived and took Maddox to Dee's house.

Krista was taken by ambulance to John Peter Smith Hospital, where she was pronounced dead a short time later.

While Dee struggles to tell the story and wipes away tears, Maddox leaves his chair and walks over to comfort her.

"It's OK," he says as he puts his arm around her shoulders. He does this multiple times during the interview.

Later that afternoon, Dee and Ron had to tell the youngest boy, 4-year-old Paxton.

Where is she? He wanted to know.

Do you know where heaven is? Maw-maw answered, and she pointed up.

"She's up there with Jesus," she said.

She made the decision to tell the boy that his father had shot his mother.

"I didn't want him to think that mommy just ran away," she said.

Daddy is a bad boy, he said.

And Paxton sat there. It was not until that night, when he was in bed, that he cried.

"I want my mommy!" he screamed.

'We never knew it was this bad'

The previous October, Ron and Dee had relocated from Florida to Lake Worth specifically to be closer to Krista, who had separated from Brian.

Krista and Brian married in March 2012, but the relationship began to fall apart in 2016. They divorced in January 2017.

"We never knew it was this bad," Dee said.

Dee and Ron, who had children of their own from previous marriages, suddenly became primary parents again to two young boys. No longer were they the fun grandparents who let the boys stay up 'til 11 while eating ice cream; now they were the law.

Although the father's family presented no obstacles, moving away was not something Dee and Ron considered. As much as their lives had just changed, they wanted to keep the boys' routine as stable as possible.

The couple, who both work, realized after six weeks they could not do all of the driving required with the two boys from their home in Lake Worth. Both Dee and Ron are in their 50s, and they quickly realized the energy required to chase/parent two young boys cannot be provided by an extra cup of coffee, or even a vat of Red Bull.

Despite having just been promoted with a raise working at an assisted living center for the deaf, Dee quit. Ron works as an audio tech at DFW Airport.

The couple found a home not far from Hulen Mall, where Maddox could remain in Tanglewood Elementary School.

Those were the logistics. There was still the matter of grief. Of anger. Of living. Of moving on while not forgetting.

"Krista was Dee's best friend," Ron said. "They would talk at least once a day."

Despite their faith, the comforting line of "Everything happens for a reason" does not fit here. Not on this one. Not to a mother who lost a child. Not to a stepfather who loved the child like his own.

There is the issue not just of grief but of anger. The father to the two boys Dee and Ron love so much is responsible for taking Dee's little girl.

"One day it hit me that these boys lost not just their mom but also their dad. I have to be receptive to that," Dee said. "If he wants to talk about dad, he has to. Paxton talks about his dad a lot. It's hard, because I still can't forgive him for what he's done. As a Christian, I have to at some point."

'She should have been on that trip'

Since Ron and Dee became the primary parents, community members have rallied to support them. First it was food and time. The family was provided a free Disney Cruise vacation, complete with a trip to the park in Orlando during spring break.

The family had shirts that read "Cruisin for Krista," but even that proved hard.

"She should have been on that trip," Dee said.

The family became tighter, and understandably paranoid. Letting go of each other was, and remains, a chore.

Maddox was the subject of teasing and bullying at school. Kids would make fun of the brand of shoes he wore or the fact that he didn't have a mother.

The brothers are fiercely close, even if they do fight. Maddox's grades initially dipped but improved in the final weeks leading to summer break. He deals with PTSD, and when loud noises occur, he reacts.

There are confused feelings when the boys discuss their dad.

The challenge now is to keep Krista alive for Dee's own memory and for her two boys. She keeps pictures of their mom all over the house. They can watch the instructional makeup tutorials their mom uploaded to YouTube, among other videos.

They visit the mausoleum to talk to her.

Then there are times when the anger is just there.

"I have no idea what they did with (Kesner's body), but ... there're times when I want to dig him up," she said. "I just want to ... want to ask him, 'Why would you do this? That was their mommy. That was my baby.' She never had a choice. He made the choice. We had no say in any of it."

Krista worked at Crowley Independent School District, and she did love makeup. She would often go with her mom to the assisted living center for the deaf and provide free makeup sessions for residents.

She was funny. She loved her boys. She loved her mom and Ron. Her father lives in Tennessee and her sister in Louisiana.

She loved them all. And they all loved her. They just never got to say goodbye. Because who thinks to say goodbye to a healthy 28-year-old woman?

As Dee talks about her daughter, Paxton runs to his grandparents and, with the wonder of a young child, says, "I've got two!"

Paxton smiles as he holds up two coins he found in a chair at McDonald's. The first coin is a shiny quarter that he calls a nickel.

The other coin is a penny.

Rangers closer Sam Dyson and reliever Jake Diekman spent Sunday night bowling with fan Amber McDonald in Dallas to raise money for Do It For Durrett (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

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