A double blessing: Monroe Co. parents who lost children in fire welcome twins
Klark and Kharis Ribera were born at 3:19 p.m. and 3:20 p.m. on Oct. 3 at Lehigh Valley Pocono Hospital. Klark Samuel G. weighed a healthy 6 pounds, 4 ounces and Kharis Issac G. weighed 5 pounds, 10 ounces.
Identical twins are a miracle in itself, but they were a double blessing to grieving parents Carlos and Markie Ribera, who lost all four of their children and Markie’s mother in a tragic house fire on Feb. 11, 2022.
The last two years, reminiscent of Job in the Bible, have been filled with mixed emotions for the Saylorsburg couple, giving them a strength through faith to endure the unthinkable.
That night, they lost Kathryn, 7; Kaleb, days from his 6th birthday; Kristian, 4; Kasper, 2, and Markie’s mother, Rosemarie A. La Barre, 53.
In between three-hour feedings of the twins, Markie and Carlos talked about the tragedy and the choice to keep going.
“There are still days when it is hard to get out of bed in the morning,” Markie, 34, said.
“We can do anything with the strength of God. We would not be able to do this without him. You really can keep going no matter what you are working through.”
She said people give her credit for persevering through the tragedy, but no one knows how they would react until they are in that situation.
“You can be a rock in a corner somewhere or make something of it,” she said.
Two years ago this month, her father Clark died of an apparent heart attack at age 52. Her parents had been staying with her, because she and Carlos had separated while he worked through depression.
Carlos, now 40, was working and staying on a farm near Nazareth. That night, he had a bout with vertigo, his first ever, and Markie went to help him. That’s where she was when the fire broke out. Had she been home, she would have been in the living room preparing home-school lessons and would have been able to put out the fire. They don’t know the cause of the fire, but it did start in the living room.
Carlos, raised in the Mormon faith, discovered Jesus through his relationship with Markie. Through Christian counseling, he was healing and ready to go back home. He remembers thinking earlier that night that his life was so wonderful it was like a dream.
He remembers being thankful for “four beautiful kids and an awesome wife.” The next morning the children were “all taken away,” he said.
When the state trooper told him the children died, he said he completely surrendered, realizing something greater was at play. “You have to give it all to God. You have no choice. He is in control of everything.”
In between bouts of tears, there was a moment when he asked God, “Why don’t you do something?”
“Kathryn was our leader,” Markie said.
Markie was a children’s ministry leader at the time of the tragedy, and Kathryn could often be found preaching to her brothers.
“Kaleb was the heart,” Markie said.
Markie would sing children’s songs and go over the motions with the children. One of the songs was “Happy Dance” by Mercy Me and involved singing “Hey you in the corner” and pointing to the person to dance. Kaleb was bothered by that. He knew pointing at people could be hurtful.
“He didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings,” Markie said. At his young age, he had compassion for people.
Kristian was a jokester who went around with a whoopee cushion and a container that looked like candy but would pop open and eject a pretend snake. “He’s the child we would have struggled to raise,” Markie said.
Kasper, who was 2, said “no” to everything. Markie said he danced on beat and she was hopeful that he would be her musical child. He was born on her birthday. “The best birthday present I’ll ever get,” she said.
Markie said her mom, Rosemarie, “was the best.” She was a strong woman who left a bad relationship when Markie was a young child. The first thing she did was get Markie counseling, which helped to shape her into the person she is today.
Her mother was resourceful, and Markie said she “could make a project or game out of just about anything.”
During the pandemic, she made a treasure map with the kids, marking steps and clues.
“She loved the grandkids. Her legacy will live on,” Markie said.
State police left a message on Carlos’ phone. Markie’s brother left a message for her saying there was a fire. When Carlos awoke in the middle of the night, he called police and was told to stay where he was. Markie did what any mother would do - got in the car and went to the house. She got as far as the roadblock, and the officer told her to go to the police barracks. She refused to leave.
She called Carlos and heard him ask the trooper if he could tell her the news. “No one made it,” he told her.
She pulled over and sobbed.
They don’t know a lot of details from the scene that night and they are at peace with that. Someday they might ask, but not now.
Markie, who had grown up in a Christian home, said her faith grew deeper instantly. “When you have nothing, He’s all you have,” she said.
Carlos added, “We could see God at work through people.”
Markie didn’t even have a coat. Everything, except the clothes she was wearing, was in the house.
A fireman rescued their dog Zeke and their mother’s two dogs. The fireman adopted her mother’s dog, Penny, and a friend adopted Rosemarie’s other dog Pepper.
Three cats were lost in the blaze.
In the midst of their sorrow, people were already organizing collections for clothes and supplies.
“That’s the body of Christ,” she said, realizing it wasn’t just their church, but Christians everywhere coming to help.
“We received checks from churches we never heard of,” she said. A woman from Lancaster messaged her on Facebook and provided them with a weekend away on their late daughter’s birthday.
“The body of Christ surrounded us. Jesus worked in everyone’s hearts,” Markie said. “We’re so grateful for all the people who walked alongside us.”
A week later Markie and Carlos were finally able to go to the burned-out property.
She tells people now that it’s important to get as much as you can to preserve memories. “Everyone said there was nothing there.”
In a way they were right. There was nothing of monetary value left. The kitchen and the dining room were destroyed.
But Markie found the children’s drawings and schoolwork. Because it was frozen it didn’t get moldy and she was able to clean it up and put it in binders.
“We have our daughter’s hand writing,” she said, with a break in her voice.
She found the words to the song “Raise a Hallelujah” written in her mother’s beautiful handwriting. The lyrics, “Up from the ashes hope will arise, death is defeated, the King is alive” stand out on the charred paper.
The bedrooms had smoke damage, but otherwise were intact.
“Only one of the kids had a security item. It was a hand-knit blanket (Kasper) called Blank. It was still intact,” Markie said. “We needed those things.”
The woman who bought that blanket had two identical ones made for the twins.
The floor of the dining room had fallen through. Yet, Carlos said a half-burned hutch had memorabilia and the children’s coloring books.
“As we were going through the house, we could see God and his angels were there in the last moments,” Markie said, discussing items that were preserved, including the crosses in the kids’ rooms.
They took what they could and sorted later. “We didn’t have the opportunity to take time when going through a house that needed to be demolished. We didn’t have time to figure it out.”
Klark and Kharis
The odds were stacked against them. Many marriages don’t survive the loss of children.
Instead Carlos and Markie become closer. “We chose marriage,” Markie said.
That was the first miracle, she said.
“(Carlos) is the only other person in this world who can understand where my heart is now,” Markie said.
Carlos had already been grieving over the loss of his mother to COVID. The loss of the children and Markie’s parents added to that.
Then God blessed them with more children to love.
Carlos had been scheduled to have a vasectomy, but it was put on hold because of COVID. A few days after the fire, the doctor’s office called to schedule it. He told them they hoped to one day have more children.
“We were really happy and excited,” when they found out they’d be having a baby, Markie said. But “every moment of joy is wrapped in sorrow. Sadness and joy do exist together.”
The couple told their friends on March 4 when they renewed their vows at the property where the house once stood.
“There was a lot of redemption there,” Markie said, adding God can bring good out of tragedy.
They had balloons with the names of each of the lost children and their parents, plus one to announce their new child.
In the summer Carlos and Markie took a honeymoon trip to Israel and prayed over the baby while sailing in the Sea of Galilee.
The song “The Blessing” came to mind. The lyrics talk about a thousand generations, and your family and your children, and their children, and their children. The Riberas had lost their generations.
When they returned home, an ultrasound the next day confirmed the twins.
Klark is more laid back and an easier baby, Markie said. He sleeps more and is content to stare at the monkeys on his swing.
Kharis moved around in utero and has not stopped. He wasn’t getting enough nourishment, but through prayer it righted itself. On one ultrasound, he could be seen kicking Klark in the head.
“I fully expect when they are older, Kharis will start trouble and Klark will walk right into it.”
Markie is aware of the blessing. In the end, God blessed Job with more children after all of his were taken. “When we get to heaven, we will see Job with all 20 of his children.”
“It helps us to live with the eternity mindset,” Markie said. “It gives us an opportunity to live our lives more fully here.”
There is sadness. These boys won’t know their siblings, though Carlos and Markie will take every opportunity to tell them about the ones who were lost.
“These boys wouldn’t be here without that tragedy,” she said.