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Name Change Rebuffed, Father Kills Son, Himself

May 15, 1995

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ Alan Gubernat never missed a visit with his tow-headed son, taking the 3-year-old boy fishing as his own father had taken him. Gubernat even went to court to make sure his son would bear his last name.

When that failed, he took his son’s life, placing a .357-caliber handgun next to the boy’s head and pulling the trigger.

Then Gubernat shot himself to death.

The bodies were discovered Sunday _ Mother’s Day _ three days after Scott’s mother, Karen Deremer, won a state Supreme Court case allowing the child to carry her last name, rather than his father’s.

Authorities said no suicide note was found at Gubernat’s home in rural Williams Township, Pa., but Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Steven Junkin said ``some things found at the scene″ indicate Gubernat was distraught. He would not elaborate.

Gubernat, a self-employed mason, lived alone in a rented house next door to his father, Alfred Gubernat, who found the bodies of his 33-year-old son and his grandson, who would have turned 4 on July 4.

Scott’s mother, Karen Deremer of Washington Borough, N.J., was in seclusion and unavailable for comment Monday. Her attorney said she was ``totally distraught and devastated.″

The murder-suicide stunned family members and attorneys for both sides.

Though Gubernat, who was never married to Deremer, at first didn’t believe Scott was his son, he wholeheartedly took on a father’s duties when blood tests confirmed paternity.

Everyone concerned _ even the Supreme Court justices who ruled against him _ said Gubernat was a loving parent who had a nurturing relationship with his son and was conscientious about seeing him under the visitation agreement.

``He didn’t miss once,″ said Gubernat’s lawyer, James Richardson. The agreement allowed Gubernat to have his son every other weekend and to see him one night during the week.

Fishing was their principal activity together. They fished the little ponds of rural Northampton County, Pa., catching sunnies, trout and small bass.

Gubernat ``felt it was an important way to establish a bond between father and son,″ Richardson said.

An elated Gubernat visited Richardson’s office two weeks ago, carrying a copy of a New Jersey fishing magazine. It had published a letter and photo he had submitted about a fishing trip the two had made.

Gubernat wrote that his father had taught him to fish when he was a little boy. ``As a father I hope to instill the same principles my father taught me, passing it down, so to speak,″ the letter said.

Richardson said he last spoke to Gubernat on Saturday, two days after the court ruled. ``His mood was upbeat. He gave no indication he was depressed,″ Richardson said.

Gubernat had told him he had accepted the decision and the finding that it is ``the love of the parent, not the name of the parent, that binds parent and child.″

But Gubernat’s sister, Karen Howe of Chester Township, N.J., told The Star-Ledger of Newark that news accounts of the case had distressed the whole family. She accused the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Karen Deremer, of ``bringing about the destruction of a little family.″

Deremer’s ACLU attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, countered: ``That isn’t true. We were always careful to talk about what a good, caring, loving father he was.″ The case was about one issue only, Lustberg said: the child’s surname.

The Supreme Court decision reversed two lower court decisions and went against a longstanding Western tradition of giving a child the father’s surname.

In a 6-0 decision, the court said New Jersey should adhere to ``society’s recognition of full equality for women″ and said the parent with physical custody of the child should have preference when it comes to surnames.

Several other states have similar policies, Lustberg said.

Gubernat at first refused to comment publicly about the decision but later told the Express-Times of Easton, Pa., that he was relieved the case was over. ``I can understand the court’s reasoning, but I’m a little disappointed,″ he said.