The Preacher's Wife
Ever since Matt Baker's wife Kari died suddenly in April 2006 at the age of 31, the Baptist preacher has lived under a cloud of suspicion. Is he an innocent man unfairly accused as his followers and friends believe? Or is he hiding a terrible dark secret? Correspondent Erin Moriarty reports.
Kari was a popular third grade teacher. She and Matt had been together since meeting as counselors at a Baptist day camp in Waco, Texas, in 1994.
"I would have been 23 and she was 20," Matt remembered. "I met her and I thought 'This is the person for me.'"
Linda and Jim Dulin remember their daughter was instantly smitten with the Baylor University senior. "The thing she kept talking about was, 'Mom, this guy's a really good Christian,'" Linda said.
And just three months after meeting, Matt and Kari suddenly announced they were getting married. By their first anniversary, Kari was pregnant with daughter Kensi; a second daughter, Kassidy, followed a year-and-a-half later.
But right after Kassidy's first birthday, doctors discovered a brain tumor and she was hospitalized. "There'd be days that it looked really good. Prognosis was good. And then turned around and went right back down hill," Matt explained.
In late February 1999, after a 90-day bedside vigil, Kassidy was well enough to go home. But just after midnight on March 22, Kassidy was rushed to the emergency room. This time doctors couldn't save her.
"To sit there and struggle that far. To come what I thought was so far to watch her die. That was devastating. It really was a very hard, hard thing to cope with," Matt told Moriarty.
It was especially hard for Kari. "She lost her child and she grieved hard," Linda remembered.
A grief counselor helped Kari get through the first year. In 2000, a third daughter, Grace, was born. But according to Matt, his wife was never the same. "I don't think it was a split second, all of a sudden she was completely different. It was a gradual changing of the person," he said. "She had almost two personalities in a way. Not negative. But when she went to work she had the ability to put issues behind her and focus on work."
"The other personality was a little bit more withdrawn at home," he added.
The way Matt tells it, he became "Mr. Mom" to Kensi and Grace. And from the time Kassidy died, Matt said his wife relied on pills to sleep.
Matt told Moriarty Kari used Unisom, an over-the-counter sleep medication. But he said she sometimes borrowed something stronger from family and friends.
And the toughest time for Kari was always the March anniversary of Kassidy's death. "It was always two or three weeks leading up to it. 'It's coming, it's coming, I can't do this. I can't make it another year. I can't do this again,'" Matt recalled.
In April 2006, seven years after Kassidy died, Matt said Kari was still struggling with the loss. So he took her to the doctor, who diagnosed her as depressed and prescribed an anti-depressant.
As they left the clinic and headed onto the highway, Matt said Kari had a meltdown. "And I'm at about 45, 50 mph and she is hyperventilating. And she attempts to open the car door," he recalled. "She said she needed to get out, get some air."
According to Matt, he grabbed hold of her waistband until he could pull off the highway. He didn't think it was a suicide attempt. "I thought she just wanted fresh air and wasn't thinking. She lost it for a second," he said.
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