13-year-old views 6 coffins, ‘needs strong emotional support’

Posted on October 18, 2011

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LONG ROAD FOR GIRL SURVIVOR

Relatives comfort Embrelaince Therjoy Ponce (back to camera) when she arrives at the St. Peter Funeral Homes where a vigil wake is held with caskets of five family members and a housekeeper. (CDN PHOTO/ JUNJIE MENDOZA)

With her family gone—the victims of a shooting rampage at home —13-year-old Embrelaince Therjoy Ponce turned to relatives for comfort.

She spent the night in an aunt’s house but is asking when she can go home.

Social workers yesterday met with the next of kin to discuss who would watch over the high school student, the lone survivor of Sunday’s bloodbath in Talisay City.

DSWD social worker Clavel Saycon said the child “needs strong emotional support from her family and friends” to cope with the trauma of losing both parents and three siblings.

Embrelaince or “Ember” was the youngest child and the only one spared by her father, Emmanuel Ponce, who ordered her to leave the house Sunday morning before the former seaman took his .45-caliber revolver and shot dead his wife, three adult children and the househelper in their house in Palm View Village, barangay Tabunok.

The cause of his rage is still a matter of speculation.

Neighbors and some relatives talked about marital troubles and a head injury he suffered 10 years ago, while psychologists said the 55-year-old head of the household may have wrestled with “psychological issues.” (Story on page 2.)

Fortunately, relatives of both of the child’s parents are ready to be Ember’s guardians, said Saycon, adding that the DSWD would still ask the girl whom she wanted to live with, and would assess the prospective relatives who volunteer to take her in.

The teenager underwent a stress debriefing with social workers yesterday, but was still in shock, refusing to talk about what happened.

“The loss of parents and siblings is very traumatic. She doesn’t want to talk about it yet,” said Saycon, who heads the Social Welfare and Development (SWAD) of Cebu province.

No one can tell how long her grief and adjustment to the tragedy will take.

“The incident will affect her greatly as she grows up. She’s just a teenager, who barely has enough coping mechanisms for something like this,” said Dr. Glenda Basubas, chairperson of the Philippine Mental Health Association (PMHA) in Cebu, in a separate interview.

Already, the 13-year-old survivor is being asked to make tough decisions— where to live next and where to bury her parents.

The mother comes from Bicol while the father’s relatives want to bury Emmanuel in his hometown in Alegria, south Cebu.

“Neutral lang mi. Whatever the child decides, we’ll follow,” said an aunt Rosellei Redula of Talisay City.

Shortly before noon, Ember arrived at the St. Peter’s Funeral Homes in Imus Avenue and broke out in sobs as she viewed six white coffins laid out in the large vigil room.

Ember, who will turn 14 in December, was comforted by an aunt.

The girl went first to the casket of her mother, Melinda, 53, whose photo in a framed front cover of Women’s Health magazine rested on top. Melinda, an assistant branch manager of the Banco de Oro in Taboan, Cebu City, was a runner. A glass display of Melinda’s 22 medals in previous marathons was placed on the floor. She had just finished a BDO fun run on that ill-fated Sunday morning.

Then there were the remains of the father, and siblings 26-year-old Ellaine Grace, 25-year-old Heather Joy and 18-year-old Emlin Bridge, and their househelper 30-year-old Anastacia Deniega.

An uncle, Paul Redula, said relatives were thankful that DSWD staff arrived a few hours after the gun slayings.

“She has school exams this week, but we asked the school guidance counselor to excuse her,” he said.

At the Capitol, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia called the killings “an incomprehensible tragedy.”

“The saddest person I believe is the lone surviving member of the family,” she said.

Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, who met with staff of the Provincial Council for the Welfare of Children, said they agreed to place a child psychologist on standby in case Talisay City’s social welfare officer needs one and would continue to monitor Ember’s status.

Dr. Basubas of PMHA, in a separate interview, said intervention through “diffusing” sessions and medical care are needed because of the trauma’s possible adverse impact on the child’s personality development.

This could be depression, social withdrawal and difficulty adjusting with her peers.

“She’s caught between trying to protect the image of her family and how people will perceive their situation,” Basubas said, explaining her struggle.

Saycon of DSWD said a more “intensive” interview with the child will have to wait till she is ready.

“When we try to talk about the incident, she’d change the topic. We need to give her enough space and time,” she said.

Since Sunday afternoon, Ember has been staying in the house of her aunt, who is the first cousin of his father.

“We will confer with the child and also consider her plans and decisions,” Saycon said.

“She needs strict monitoring.” Candeze R. Mongaya and Rhea Ruth Rosell with reports of Carmel Loise Matus and Jhunnex Napallacan

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