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Resting Places | Chapter Three: Baptism at the vault

Sherry Morton and her son Cedric are featured in a photograph on a program to the 20-year graveside service held for family and friends in Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence on January 11, 2013.


Sherry Morton and her son Cedric are featured in a photograph on a program to the 20-year graveside service held for family and friends in Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence on January 11, 2013. SARAH CROSBY


Waiting for the funeral, Jeannie and Yoko slept together on the big velour couches in Yoko’s living room, with the lights on. Jeannie was afraid to go to sleep. She wondered how her mother would get through calling hours at the Pease Funeral Home on Elm Street.

Jeannie was at the funeral home when Sherry and Cedric’s bodies arrived, the day after the autopsies and just a few days after the murders. She and Sherry had gone to school with Ken Pease’s daughter, so Jeannie had been inside the funeral home before. They had even seen the embalming room. Now Jeannie heard Sherry and Cedric’s bodies descend on a clanking elevator. Pease told her that he needed clothes for them, and photographs to display at the calling hours the next evening. She drove down to the police station and arranged with a detective there, Bob Dunn, to go to Sherry’s apartment.

Jeannie could feel her breathing change as she and Dunn neared Meadowbrook. Police were still examining the apartment, three days after the killings, and were going through the trash, which they had spread out on the floor. Dunn warned Jeannie that she would smell chicken, as well as sour milk from a bottle prepared for Cedric.

Jeannie found a photograph of Sherry and realized only later that it was out of date, taken before Sherry started wearing her hair in a bob. As for clothes, she was at a loss. She picked out underwear, but couldn’t find the bra that she knew was her sister’s favorite. She chose tights and black stirrup pants and a multicolored Christmas sweater, because she was afraid it would be cold. She found two outfits for Cedric and took them both.

At the funeral home, she walked around a basement showroom and looked at coffins. The prices worried her; she thought she would be paying for two until Pease told her Sherry and Cedric could be buried together. She picked up a satin pillow and laid her cheek against it, to test its feel. Pease handed her the one personal article of her sister’s that police had not wanted to keep as evidence: an imitation-pearl barrette that Sherry had been wearing in her hair. Jeannie closed her fist around it and cried for the first time since coming home.

In the work room, Pease laid Sherry on her right side, with her right arm extended, inside the dark polished coffin Jeannie had chosen. He placed Cedric on his back across his mother’s outstretched arm and then arranged Sherry’s left arm across her son. The cut on Cedric’s chin had bruised in the minutes before he died and Pease hadn’t been able to hide the wound, so he tried to position Sherry’s hands to make it less noticeable. He wet his finger with a bit of Sherry’s favorite perfume, Giorgio, and touched it to her cheeks.

Jeannie started to make a list of things she wanted to put in Sherry and Cedric’s coffin: a pack of Marlboro Lights, Sherry’s brand. A small ruby ring that belonged to Jeannie, which Sherry had taken to wearing. Pease wasn’t able to get the ring on Sherry’s finger so he put it in a small bag and placed it on her stomach. An assortment of toys for Cedric, including his favorite Sesame Street characters, Bert and Ernie.

Coming into the funeral home, visitors signed a register near the door and made their way past a summertime photograph of Sherry smiling broadly, wearing a crewneck sweater and with her hair pulled back. On the day the photo was taken, she had dressed Cedric in denim overalls and had rolled the sleeves on his white cotton shirt up high. She held him tight against her chest, their faces inches apart.

More than 400 people signed in — Yoko’s customers, fellow Northampton shopkeepers, teachers and friends of Sherry’s, many attending their first calling hours.

Amid the murmur of the crowd, Jeannie looked at the coffin and let the shiny bulk of it, the fact of it, help her get used to the idea that Sherry and Cedric were gone. She began worrying that she’d given the wrong bra to Pease. Maybe the shoes were wrong, too.

Then she heard her mother call out. She looked around in time to see Yoko drop to the floor, then begin screaming. Jeannie turned to the person she thought was standing beside her — Sherry — and said aloud, “I can’t believe she’s doing this in public.”

Later that day, a friend of Yoko’s from New Hampshire called the house and asked the people who had gathered there to sing “Happy Birthday” to Yoko, who was turning 47. A bad idea, but people sang anyway.

Yoko had refused to look at Sherry and Cedric in their coffin. The next day, she woke up thinking that it could have been empty.

On the day of the funeral, Yoko and Rad drove to the cemetery early. Hoping for a private service, they had decided with Jeannie to have the burial before the church service downtown. Jeannie had selected a plot in a new area at the Spring Grove Cemetery, not far from the middle school she and Sherry had attended. Yoko walked with Rad past the other graves, unadorned in midwinter, then felt her legs going out from under her. Rad held her up. When they got to the plot, with Sherry and Cedric’s names on the copper-colored vault that contained the coffin, Yoko retched into the snow.

Cedric had not been baptized and so they took care of that now. Yoko wanted that sacrament to be sure Cedric would be allowed into heaven and had asked Fred Pojen Lee, a friend and minister, to say the words. Fresh-cut flowers surrounded them, their petals crisp in the cold. Sherry’s friend Michael Quinlan was to be Cedric’s godfather, Jeannie his godmother. Yoko wondered how Sherry and Cedric were arranged inside the vault. She wanted to be able to picture them now. After the baptism, a friend of Jeannie’s handed her a single rose from the top of the vault. Jeannie, too, now buckled and cried.

Inside the sanctuary of the First Churches on Main Street, where the morning’s gray light nudged color from a high bank of stained-glass windows, the pews were nearly full.

Joseph DeFazio, a Northampton lawyer, spoke on behalf of the family. He’d met with Jeannie and Yoko and had organized their thoughts onto typewritten pages that read a little like a closing argument. Yoko and Sherry wanted him to make three main points.

DeFazio told mourners that Yoko and Jeannie had a message for victims of domestic violence or those at risk: “You are beautiful, you are worthy, you are loved. You must seek help; you must protect yourself.” Through DeFazio, Yoko and Jeannie urged people to learn the causes of domestic violence and listen for the symptoms. They urged people to come forward to help victims, and also help prosecutors.

“If a friend or acquaintance is in a violent or potentially violent relationship,” DeFazio said, “help, be supportive and continue to help, even if your friend returns to the relationship.”

Then DeFazio spoke about what Cedric had meant to the family. “Cedric was loving and loved,” he said. “The blood that flowed through Cedric was Asian, African, European and American. Yoko and Jeannie want all of us to see Cedric as a symbol of love from the union of different cultures and races and the symbol of hope that all people can live together in love and peace.”

After DeFazio spoke, more people took turns at the pulpit. Yoko and Jeannie had a hard time listening. It seemed too final.

TOMORROW: Jeannie returns to Sherry’s apartment and Yoko must track down a death certificate.


Resting Places / Chapter Two: The path of patient No. 40110

Thursday, January 10, 2013

NORTHAMPTON Soon after the killings, Yoko went in search of counseling. She drove to her doctor’s office in Florence and waited for a psychotherapist in a room lit by skylights and floor lamps and decorated with a colorful quilt. Behind a counter, staff clattered away at keyboards. When she was called in, Yoko found herself pouring it all out – …

Resting Places / Chapter One: Dreaming it to be ... one woman's road through loss

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

EDITOR'S NOTE: Twenty years ago this evening, a young woman, Sherry Morton, and her 18-month-old son Cedric were murdered by the boy’s father inside their Northampton apartment. Today, the Gazette presents the first chapter of “Resting Places,” an account of how one relative, Yoko Kato, faced the challenge of living without her daughter and grandson and in time helped bring …

Resting Places / Chapter Four: Lives in a carton

Friday, January 11, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - A week after Sherry and Cedric’s funeral, Yoko Kato drove to Northampton and opened her dressmaking shop. It was Jan. 19, the day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Sherry had asked her to watch Cedric, so Yoko had no appointments with customers. She removed the “closed” sign that her lawyer had put up for her …

Resting Places / Chapter Five: Bundles of sympathy

Friday, January 11, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - Every day the mailman delivered bundles of letters to Yoko’s dressmaking shop, each installment bound in a rubber band. The first week brought hundreds. The owner of a lingerie shop a few blocks away sent a card saying she and her partner were praying Yoko could find strength to live one day at a time, aware of the …

Resting Places / Chapter Six: Night of threats foretold 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - Sean Seabrooks began harassing Yoko Kato with phone calls shortly after he started dating her daughter Sherry. Yoko would answer and he’d say nothing. Calls came day and night, to her home and to her dress shop. A Northampton detective traced some of the calls to the shipping department of Merriam-Webster in Springfield, where Sean worked. Others came …

Resting Places / Chapter Seven: One mother's flight to safety  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - “How has the week gone?” It was Cat Chapin’s opening question to Yoko Kato, as the therapist sat in a rocker decorated with a halo of ivy leaves painted gold. They met Tuesdays and Thursdays for weeks, then months, across Northampton’s seasons. The question to Yoko was vague by design. It allowed Yoko to begin with good or …

Resting Places / Chapter Eight: Five days in March

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NORTHAMPTON On March 3, 1993, not two months after the murders, a Northampton court held a 2 p.m. hearing on the terms of Sean Seabrooks’ bail. Jeannie Banas attended and that evening called her mother, Yoko Kato, to tell her that the knife used to kill Sherry and Cedric had been left in her face, near her eye. The next …

Resting Places / Chapter Nine: Weaving her religion

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - A few weeks after the killings, Yoko Kato took up a ritual her family practiced in Japan. She created a shrine to her daughter and grandson in the breakfast room of her home and began to speak to them every morning. She shared the day’s first foods with them in the Shinto Buddhist manner, coffee for Sherry and …

Resting Places / Chapter Ten: Thoughts that need stopping

Friday, January 18, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - During a pretrial hearing in the murder cases against Sean Seabrooks, the prosecutor screened TV news footage outside Meadowbrook Apartments the morning after the killings. Sherry and Cedric’s bodies had just been taken out. Hearing the reporter’s voice again, Yoko Kato broke into a sweat, then ran shaking from the courtroom, sick to her stomach. Out in the …

Resting Places / Chapter Eleven: The gift of making a difference  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - A week after the killings, women dressed in aprons and carrying pots and pans gathered at 7:30 a.m. on the Coolidge Bridge to decry family violence. It was the first demonstration of the Women’s Action Coalition-Western Massachusetts. The second came four days later, when a dozen members gathered downtown, with Yoko Kato present, to hold signs and distribute …

Resting Places / Chapter Twelve: A father’s testimony

Sunday, January 20, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - Three weeks after the deaths, Sean Seabrooks had arrived at Hampshire Superior Court in shackles to enter a plea of innocent to two counts of murder. When the prosecutor described the number of wounds Sherry Morton and her son Cedric suffered, he began to cry. A judge ordered an examination into whether he was competent to stand trial. …

Resting Places / Chapter Thirteen: Pieces you can’t put back together

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - Yoko Kato could still picture the life her grandson Cedric had lived. In her newest memories he was standing on the couch by the front windows of her dress shop downtown. He would bounce across the cushions like a man on the moon, just tall enough to look over the back of the couch and out onto Main …

Resting Places / Chapter Fourteen: Facing up to forever

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

NORTHAMPTON The deer stepped out of the woods and advanced slowly through rows of gravestones. Lights were coming on in the houses that border Spring Grove, but in the deepening dusk, the deer moved almost unseen. On the edge of the cemetery, a woman in a small green house finished her supper of asparagus on toast and looked out the …

Legacy Comments1

This series is haunting, heartbreaking, and beautifully written.

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