EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from Murder by Family by Keith Whitaker (Howard).

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.