ASHEVILLE – Purple, pink and teal blue were the favorite colors of Harmony Smith, Erica Smith and Keithan Whitmire. They were also the colors of their caskets, which rested at the front of the First Baptist Church of Asheville on Friday afternoon as the lives of Erica, Harmony and Keithan were celebrated during a combined funeral.
The three were shot to death in their West Asheville home April 18. Police identified Maurice Garner, Erica's boyfriend, as the shooter. He was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound nearby.
Four children survived and are staying with different family members.
There were so many people in attendance that ushers shut the doors early and turned people away. Even areas for standing were full.
The immediate family was dressed in all white, and many people could be seen wearing sunglasses as tears streamed down their faces.
Erica Smith's brother contacted News 13 and said there were relationship issues before Maurice Garner shot her and five of her kids.
According to Michael Johnson Jr., Smith told him that things were bad. But Johnson said he did not know how bad the situation was until he lost three people he loved so much.
Johnson is still clinging to the last text message from his sister:
"Hey bro, I just want to say I really appreciate you helping me and my kids. You are the only brother I have. I really need you to keep an eye on my house and my kids for me. I really love you brother and you mean the world to me. Really need you to help me through this brother."
Smith sent that text to her brother just days before Garner killed her and two of her kids.
Johnson said Garner and his sister started dating about a year ago.
"My sister liked him, feel what I'm saying? So, I liked him," Johnson said.
But, the mood all changed about a month before the shooting.
"I started to see, you know what I'm saying, changes in her mood and then his mood," Johnson said.
Johnson said his sister would reach out to him for advice.
"I guess she was in the fact of I want to leave him, but I still love him. Bro, call and talk to him for me, bro," Johnson said.
Johnson said he did call, but never got the feeling Garner was violent.
"He used to text me sometimes, call me. Bro, your sister man, she mad at me," Johnson said.
Johnson said his sister never said he was violent.
"Because she was probably at a place where she wanted to leave him, but she didn't want to leave him or maybe she wanted to leave him,” Johnson said. “Maybe she knew he was capable of something like this all along, but ain't tell nobody."
So, Johnson said, he wanted to tell anyone else in an abusive relationship to seek help.
"You got tell somebody immediately. You understand what I'm saying, bro? Don't hesitate, bro. Don't protect these people. Don't think they love you—don't think that," Johnson said.
If you are in a dangerous abusive situation, please call: the National Domestic Hotline,(888)-799-SAFE (7233). You don't have to put your life at risk.