Money was so tight in the Harding household this year the family canceled Christmas.
There was no Christmas tree in the West Deptford family's home. No lights. No presents carefully wrapped with ribbons and bows. The few Christmas cards that had tumbled through the mail slot were hidden from the children, a relative said yesterday.
Jarod Harding, 6, and his 9-year-old sister, Christy, were all right with not having Christmas, said their aunt, Carol Ann Harding. They understood the holiday would have to wait until their father could find another job.
Christian Harding, an unemployed computer programmer, hoped to make it up to his children in the spring. He asked the children's aunts and uncles to wait until April to shower them with gifts, said their aunt. Then, with a new job and paycheck, he'd be able to pitch in with some gifts as well.
But last night, on Christmas Eve, Christian Harding was planning Jarod's funeral, and Christy was in foster care. Martina Harding, the children's mother, was charged with murder and was being held on $500,000 bond.
Martina Harding, 42, is accused of slitting Jarod's throat with a kitchen knife on Saturday, before turning the knife on herself. She remained hospitalized yesterday in stable condition after undergoing surgery for a small wound to her throat, said Bernie Weisenfeld, spokesman for the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office.
Martina had spiraled into depression this year after the family filed for bankruptcy protection for a second time, Carol Ann Harding said.
"I could tell that she was really upset by things, especially with the money situation," Carol Ann Harding said. "But we never thought she'd do something like this."
Writing on a Web site, Christian Harding yesterday said his son died a hero.
"Christina Noelle Harding is alive today because Jarod Brandon Harding was a hero and yelled for her with his last breath," he writes on www.Hardingkids.info.
"When this 6-year old's throat was cut, he didn't waste time or energy trying to fight or run, he yelled at his 9-year-old sister to wake up and get to daddy and safety.
"Because of his heroic warning, Christy made it safely past daddy who was flying down the stairs and disarmed the attacker," Christian Harding wrote on the site, which features dozens of photos of Jarod and his impish grin.
Christian Harding doesn't have a cent to pay for the funeral, Carol Ann Harding said. The state and the prosecutor's office will cover $5,000 of the funeral expenses because the family qualifies as victims of violence, she said.
"Christian is hoping to have the funeral later this week, but he wants Christy back in his custody first," she said. "He has papers to sign the day after Christmas to get her back."
Deptford police officers, who were struck by the tragedy and the absence of Christmas decorations at the crime scene, bought Christy presents, Carol Ann Harding said. Officers delivered them to her yesterday, bringing a smile to the child's face, she said.
Carol Ann Harding, who has three young children, said Christmas will go on in her family's Dover, Del., home.
"We're not going to let Martina spoil this Christmas," she said. "We want the children to know that even when a tragedy like this happens, there can be happiness in the world."
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