How do you forgive the man who murdered your child? Can you? Do you seek his death? Or do you petition the legal system to lock him up forever and throw away the key?
A book released last week shows how a couple chose to forgive the man who used a shotgun on their 19-year-old daughter, Ann, during a breakup argument. The couple had been on again, off again for a while, and had wanted to get married.
“Forgiving My Daughter’s Killer: A True Story of Loss, Faith, and Unexpected Grace,” is written by Ann’s mother Kate Grosmaire, with Nancy French. Nelson Books is the publisher. I had the opportunity to interview Kate recently.
On March 28, 2010, Kate and her husband Andy Grosmaire learned their youngest daughter Ann had been shot by her boyfriend, Conor McBride, on Passion Sunday, the week before Easter. The couple has two older daughters, Sarah and Allyson.
Ann was kept on a ventilator for a while, but as her organs began failing, her parents made the decision to remove the device. Just before that happened, Kate decided to visit Conor in jail — and tell him she and her husband had forgiven him.
After Ann died, her parents learned about a process called restorative justice.
One organization, the Centre for Justice & Reconciliation, that promotes the theory says it “emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behaviour. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders. This can lead to transformation of people, relationships and communities. (Source: RestorativeJustice.org)
The Grosmaires sat down with Conor to talk. He was shocked at their offer of forgiveness, she told me.
“It brought him to the realization this is how God works,” she said. “How else could people come to forgiveness.”
The couple received a great deal of support from their community in the Tallahassee, Florida, area.
The criminal justice system typically asks what should the punishment be for an offense, she said, while restorative justice asks who was harmed, what do they need and who is obligated to meet those needs. The offender is allowed to speak about what happened and why. He has the opportunity to express remorse if he so chooses. Meanwhile, the criminal justice system seeks to keep the offender and victim apart and the offender is told not to confess. Restorative justice encourages the offender to take responsibility.
Members of the community may be involved because crime affects them too, Kate said. The stakeholders discuss possible consequences that can include jail time but also a way for the offender to do something to make up for his actions. Research shows that when the offender is involved in the discussion, he is more willing to complete the sentence, she said.
Ann’s parents realized nothing Conor could do would bring her back, but they hoped he could do something meaningful other than sit in a jail cell doing nothing.
“How could that make up for the loss of Ann,” Kate said.
Conor was sentenced to 20 years with no chance for time off for good behavior, plus 10 years’ probation that includes speaking to others about dating violence and taking anger management classes. He has already taken the training. During his probation, he must volunteer at an animal-related charity (Ann loved animals). Conor has discussed working either at a wildlife association or an animal shelter.
Conor and the Grosmaires communicate frequently, and he tells them he realizes he has the responsibility to “do the big deeds of two people in his lifetime. We believe he is committed to that,” Kate said. “We know our daughter was destined to do great things in her life. This has become her destiny.”
Her parents founded the Ann Grosmaire “Be The Change” Fund, a charitable fund to promote forgiveness and restorative justice practices. They travel and speak about the process to honor Ann, who had planned to work in the wildlife refuge industry. She loved horses and rode on local trails.
“We want people to know that we’re ordinary people who faced extraordinary events in our lives,” Kate said. “We were able to forgive, and through that found a peace and a freedom on the other side we never thought possible.”
Conor wrote a Q&A section for Kate’s book. He talks about how he first met Ann and how the Grosmaires’ forgiveness changed him and helped him believe in God for the first time.
“Forgiving My Daughter’s Killer” is a powerful story of love and forgiveness that can challenge how you think of justice.
— Jason Reynolds