Two years ago, 19-year-old Conor shot and killed his 19-year-old fiancée, Ann.
Conor had never been in serious trouble before that day. It was the final moment of an argument and fight that had stretched over the course of three days. It ended with Ann on her knees with a shotgun in her face.
Conor then turned himself into the police.
That is not the story to be told today, only the beginning. It is a parent’s worst nightmare to deal with the tragic death of a child at an age still full of life, hopes and dreams.
Ann was still alive when emergency crews arrived that afternoon; she would remain on life support, unresponsive for several days until her parents decided to let her go. As Andy sat with his daughter in the hospital, he kept hearing her voice, “Forgive him, forgive him.”
Andy didn’t think that he could ever forgive anyone for this, even Conor, someone that had grown to be part of the family, someone he loved. It wasn’t possible, not realistic, too much to ask. Yet he kept hearing her voice, “Forgive him.”
It was his faith that finally allowed Andy to listen to her voice. It was Christ’s call for him to listen that allowed him to begin the process of healing and forgiveness.
If only we could all hear that call, the world would be a different place.
While Ann was still in the hospital on life support, Kate visited her daughter’s murderer in jail with a message of forgiveness, and the two cried together. Her faith led her to a place Conor never deserved and could never earn.
True Christ-like forgiveness and compassion by Andy and Kate paved the way for a healing process unprecedented in our court system.
A restorative justice process seeks to open the lines of communication between the offender, the victim, and their community. Justice then is restored through accepting responsibility, making amends and forgiveness rather than traditional punitive measures.
Andy and Kate were called to forgive, and with exceptional compassion, they refused to define Conor by this one moment, or allow their daughter to be defined by that single moment.
Bradley Christianson-Barker is pastor at Open Door Church.