In her story, Sherri Brunsvold reflects upon her experience of losing her husband. A long while after he was murdered, she learned that a sixteen year old boy, with a substantial criminal record, had shot and killed him. As a devout Christian, her account speaks mainly of how she dealt with the problem of her faith in such horrible circumstances.
It seems that Brunsvold found a great deal of comfort through counselling and other forms of group therapy, especially among other Christian people. She comments on how she did not feel hatred towards the man who killed her husband. However, that could be attributed to the time which had elapsed between the murder and the accused man being arrested. Within this time, she took a lot of her anger out on God, which she believes actually strengthened her faith. She also mentions how she sought counselling for her children straight after the murder, and also how she was open with them about her feelings.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about her story is that while the killer was still at large, Brunsvold spoke of how, in some ways, she would rather the man was not caught. To her, the media coverage, and her family and their ordeal becoming public knowledge, was a worse prospect than her husband’s murderer evading justice. Also, Brunsfold does not mention any fear that the killer may attack again, and kill someone else’s family member. In this way, her account seemed more philosophical than raw. Clearly the steps that she took in order to deal with her grief have been positive in allowing her to find acceptance of what happened.
Bud Welch’s daughter was killed in the 1995 bombings in Oklahoma City. His story recounts how, when his daughter first died, he sunk into a destructive pattern of drinking, smoking, and harbouring hatred and revengeful thoughts towards those who caused her death. He then goes on to explain that after remembering his daughter’s opposing thoughts towards the death penalty, he used these to help him stop hating the people responsible, and also to get his life back on track. Now, Welch is an activist in opposition of the death penalty, and does many talks and interviews about this. He claims that once he was able to let go of his thoughts of revenge, he felt much lighter and started to recover from the ordeal.
It is an interesting story as Welch seems to imply that by not wishing execution on his daughter’s murderers, he has forgiven them. In reality, however, if the people are not executed they will have been sent to jail for life which is, arguably, still an incredibly harsh punishment. If Welch had truly forgiven the people responsible then perhaps he would wish them to be freed, providing they were remorseful and unlikely to commit further crimes. Furthermore, being morally against capital punishment does not necessarily mean that a person has found forgiveness. Nevertheless, perhaps the important element here is that by spreading the word about his daughter, Welch was able to deal with his grief in a positive way, and find comfort simultaneously.
Keith Kemp is the father of a murdered child. His story does not go into details about what happened to his son; it simply states that he was murdered. Kemp explains how the criminal justice system at the time deemed that he and his wife, although parents of a murdered child, were not classed as victims of crime.
Kemp formed a group with several other parents of murdered children and campaigned to get the laws changed so that future parents of murdered children would be classed as victims of crime and would have the rights that accompany the title. Kemp’s account makes clear the philosophical feeling of calm that he has been left with after a period of grief. It seems that fighting to get the laws changed gave him a focus and direction to which he could channel all of his emotions.
Kemp’s feeling that justice should be based on compassion is an interesting one. The concept that a criminal should be made to share in his victim’s turmoil certainly makes sense. However, this is, clearly, very hard to put into practice and enforce. Although efforts such as mediation have been shown to help in this respect, there is no real way of forcing a person to feel remorseful and to feel the suffering and grief that the parents of a murdered child would go through. While Kemp’s work on changing the status of a parent of a murdered child to that of a crime victim was a good one, his musings about how justice should be carried out are less productive. However, whilst his theories are somewhat ideal and unlikely, he certainly has a strong point about what the criminal justice system should be working towards.
Zehr, H. Transcending: Reflections of Crime Victims.