It's a tragedy that has drained the joy from a family's holiday and mocks peace-on-Earth pretensions:
James Marcus Howe was shot to death on his front porch in a tussle with thugs trying to force their way into his home the day before Thanksgiving. His wife was wounded and hospitalized, his young son traumatized.
His friends, co-workers and Glassell Park neighbors are stunned and horrified by the slaying of the 42-year-old director, an up-and-comer in the world of reality television.
And his grieving parents are salting their mourning with prayers for his killers.
Police believe it was a random attack, committed by strangers posing as door-to-door solicitors. The LAPD has posted surveillance video of a getaway car online, and the City Council has offered a $75,000 reward for information leading to the killers.
A news conference held last week to publicize the case had its requisite players:
The victim's friends shared stories of his loving nature, the local councilman expressed neighborhood outrage, police officials warned residents not to open their doors to strangers.
But it also offered something extraordinary that I won't soon forget:
Howe's parents — here from Chicago to bury their youngest child — extolled his virtues. They challenged witnesses to come forward and wept at the thought of him bleeding to death "right on the front porch of the house he was living in."
Then came the proverbial question some reporter always asks: How do you feel right now?
"Angry," his father said, gripping the lectern and swallowing hard. "I am angry that the people that did this did not get enough love in their lives."
Allan and Jeanne Howe are peace-loving Mennonites. There's no room in their faith for vengeance, judgment or hate.
"When Jesus says love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you … we take that pretty seriously," said Allan, a minister and retired university professor. "The Christian faith underlies everything we do."
The Howes, who adopted James Marcus when he was 5 months old, are committed to following Jesus' example of compassion and forgiveness — even if that requires painful reconciliation with incomprehensible loss.
They raised their son in a "Christian community," and they don't just mean neighborhood. Their three children spent their early years in the Reba Place Fellowship, a group of shared homes and apartments in Evanston, Ill., where Mennonite families live, worship, pool their money and look out for one another.
Maybe that's why the boy they called Marcus grew up so big-hearted and trusting. It would have been just like him, they said, to open the door to a stranger, even in a neighborhood that's considered a little rough around the edges.
"I'm sorry the people who killed my son couldn't know what they were doing," Jeanne said. "If they had known him and he had known them, he would have won their hearts; he was such an outgoing person."
The Howes learned of his death from their daughter-in-law, who called from the hospital.
"She said 'Mommy Jeanne, are you sitting down?' And I said yes. She said someone came to the door and rang the bell .... that she had been shot. That Marcus had died."
Neither Jeanne nor Allan could remember much after that.
The Howes were overwhelmed by the funeral for their son at a Presbyterian church in South Pasadena 10 days ago. It drew more than 400 friends and co-workers, many sharing stories of how much and how often Marcus had reached out to help others.
"It was kind of over the top for people like us," Jeanne said. "We were expecting to hear respect and loyalty and kindness and things like that. But I had no idea so many people felt such love and appreciation for who he was and what he had done."
Police say tips have been coming in since the news conference. But they still don't know whether the Howes' home was targeted or have enough information to tie anyone to the crime.
The homily at the funeral was delivered by Mennonite pastor Sally Schreiner Youngquist. She explained that their faith requires prayer for Marcus' killers — the surveillance tape shows two young men and a woman driving the getaway car — in hopes they'll come to understand the wrong they have done and experience a transformation in their thinking and their lives.
It's a tall order that seems to me both impressively noble and incredibly naive. I can't imagine absorbing the loss of my child with such grace and dignity.
The Howes don't see any other route to take. Nothing will bring their son back. But if his killers can be redeemed, some good may come of his death.
I asked Jeanne what message she'd like us to draw from her son's death. She was silent for so long I thought we'd lost the phone connection.
"I know it will take the rest of my life to process this," she said. "I'm just sorry that in our culture there's so much violence.
"And I wish the spirit of Christmas could impact everybody, that we'd show more love and share more with others, so there's nobody on the margins who feels they have to do this kind of thing, for whatever reason."
That seems to me a fitting tribute to the season — one that comes at a very high cost for a grieving family.
Anyone with information on the case can call LAPD Northeast Division homicide detectives at (323) 344-5731, or remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.