Though the Griego family wasn’t sitting in its usual spot — front row, on the left — during Wednesday night’s service at Calvary church, around 2,000 Christians who knew the victims packed into the chapel for a night of remembrance and faith, not only for the five dead but also for the boy suspected of killing them.
“As we go to pray for the family, we realize that one of the family is in jail,” pastor Skip Heitzig told the crowd, some of whom watched the sermon on TV screens in spill-over rooms. “Now what should our instinct be? For justice? Yes. For mercy? Yes.”
The Griego family was remembered Wednesday night for its devotion to the church and the community it served. Photos of each victim, from 51-year-old Greg Griego to 2-year-old Angelina, were displayed on screens behind the stage.
Three young children — Zephaniah, 9, Jael, 5, and Angelina — and their parents, Greg and Sarah Griego, 40, were found dead from multiple gunshot wounds Saturday night. Their son Nehemiah, 15, is charged with five counts of murder and three counts of child abuse resulting in death.
Ivan Newman is a former inmate at Metropolitan Detention Center who credits pastor Greg Griego with his personal transformation from crime to church. He sang a song he composed while in the jail’s “God Pod,” where he got spiritual advice from Griego and turned his life around, he said.
“Every time I saw Greg, he was on the move,” Newman said.
Heitzig said the church was the focal point of a tragedy that “reverberated … throughout the world,” since Greg Griego was a well-liked pastor and the family members were constant attendees at church functions. Nehemiah played drums in “Velocity,” one of the megachurch’s youth Christian bands.
The nature of the Griego family killings has left many Calvary churchgoers torn just days after the bodies were found in the South Valley home. Michelle Garnham said she’s concerned about Nehemiah, who is being held at the county Juvenile Detention Center, but is also troubled by the allegations against him.
“Part of me would like to be kind and comforting,” she said. “Part of me would just shake him, like, ‘Why would you do that?”
Garnham’s kids saw Nehemiah on Saturday during the evening church service. The teen appeared “normal” to them despite having allegedly killed five members of his family early Saturday morning, Garnham said.
The Saturday night service ran from 6 to 9 p.m., and Nehemiah then got a ride home from a Cavalry church security guard who called 911 as they approached the Griego home on Long Lane SW.
Deputies discovered the bodies around 9:15 p.m.
On Wednesday before the service, Sarah Leatham said she kept expecting to see the Griego family in the front row inside the chapel.
“But I don’t see them. I don’t see their babies,” she said. “It just feels empty.”
Leatham knew the Griego family for 15 years and got along especially well with the pastor’s wife, Sarah, she said, whom she described as shy, loving and selfless.
A few years ago, the Griego family opened their home to Leatham when she was going through a rough time. She also attended the family’s weekly Bible study, where she would marvel at the wife’s cooking skills and her precocious children.
“She’d laugh like every two seconds,” Leatham said. “I always wanted to know how she made her enchiladas.”
The news broke about the murders between Calvary’s second and third service Sunday, Heitzig told the Journal before the memorial Wednesday. Though the reports hadn’t yet been confirmed by the fourth and final service, Heitzig said, churchgoers knew something was wrong.
“Our heads were spinning, and we wanted to wait to confirm it,” Heitzig said. “… There were tears as we gathered to give the final service.”