By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
When I walk into the modest house in North Garland, the children—McKayla and Matthew Butler Jr.—quickly latch onto my legs, 1-year-old daughter on the left, 2-year-old son on the right. "They miss their daddy," says Teresa Butler as she leads me past the family dog and a collection of paper plates resting precipitously on an ottoman. "Excuse the mess. We're having a sort of a picnic."
Seven weeks ago, Teresa's son Matthew, owner of Zion Gate Studio, was shot to death along with his best friend and business associate, Steve Swan, outside Butler's Garland music studio. The men accused of killing them, James Broadnax and Demarius Cummings, were, police say, teenagers looking for a car to steal. According to police reports, the pair took a DART train and hopped out in Garland where they stumbled upon Butler and Swan coming out of the studio. The murders could have happened to anyone that night, anyone unlucky enough to cross paths with Broadnax and Cummings.
"The killers were just in a bind and needed a car," Teresa says with the matter-of-factness of a police detective. "We live in an evil world, and things happen, but this wasn't God's plan for my son."
Teresa's daughter-in-law, Jamie, joins us in the living room as the children crawl around and squeal. Jamie has moved from the condo she shared with Matthew and the children, and her living arrangements now alternate between her parents' home in Rockwall and her mother-in-law's house.
"I'm still numb," Jamie says. "With the children and the business, I have to keep going."
Matthew did not have life insurance and Jamie was recently laid off, so amidst the mourning, the now-single mother must deal with some disconcerting financial worries. Despite the cruelty thrust upon her, Jamie Butler's strength, as well as that of her mother, is remarkable.
"I don't know how she's done it, kept so together," says Matthew Kennedy, an engineer who was working at another studio the same night Matthew Butler was killed. "If it was me, I'd be crawled up in a ball, living in the closet." Kennedy is one of several engineers at Paul Osborn's Audio Dallas who have volunteered their time in order to make certain Zion Gate keeps running.
"Paul and Matthew Butler were very close," Kennedy says. "And I'm trying to find someone to help Ms. Jamie run the studio."
Kennedy says that he will soon find someone to assist Jamie in the everyday operation of the business.
"It's like not being an accountant and then being asked to do the books," Kennedy says. "We didn't want Jamie to be left in the dark."
Under Matthew Butler's guidance, Zion Gate Studio had become a small-business success story. Known primarily for working with traditional Christian acts, Matthew didn't mind recording secular bands as well.
"Matthew would work with anyone," says Jamie, "except demonic types."
The demonic types, though, were few and far between as Zion Gate became a successful studio thanks to Matthew and Steve's work ethic as well of the business savvy of tapping into the burgeoning area Christian music scene.
Back in her house, Teresa talks about her son's spirituality, how she knows that Matthew is happy in heaven. Jamie nods as she pulls Matthew Jr. onto her lap.
"Matthew knew where he was going to go after he died," Teresa says. "He was a good, strong Christian."
As strong as her faith may be, the death of her son did cast doubts, however briefly, in the mind of Teresa Butler.
"It's normal and natural," she says. "We're human, and we doubt, and we have fear, and we question God, but ultimately, we come back to knowing that he is what he says he is, and he does what he promises."
As she describes the events of that night, she bounces her grandchildren on her knee as if her son is about to walk through the front door.
"It makes it easier when you know that you're going to see your loved one again," Teresa says.
When I leave the Butlers' house, I think that this story is about more than friends, neighbors and strangers helping out a widow and her two infant children. This story is about murder, about a random killing of a man who wanted to help others make music and the peripheral damage brought about by one heinous act. It's about despair and hope and strength and the remarkable, resilient act of healing. Teresa's faith isn't the kind where Jesus wants you to be a millionaire. Her devotion, almost frightening in its intensity, colors every aspect of her life.
"Matthew told me that he was tired and that he wanted to see his [deceased] grandpa and grandma," says Jamie. The last song Matthew was working on the night he was killed was called "We All Die Before Our Time."
Many of the artists who have worked with Matthew are joining together to help his family. A benefit concert is set for October 31, and Teresa wants everyone to know that there's room for anyone else who wants to join in. Interested parties can call 469-619-2556 to leave a message.