FORGIVING A KILLER
Freedom from the past is possible in the present
by Lynetta L. Smith
Something like the sound of firecrackers peppered the hot
June afternoon as our house stirred with waking toddlers and
preschoolers. "It's a little early for fireworks," I told my
A few minutes later, more shots rang out. They sounded
different than the first round. Panic filled me as I grasped the
situation. Gunfire. Somewhere near our home on a safe Air Force
base, someone was shooting.
"OK," I said. "Time for cartoons." My attempt at calm
demeanor couldn't fool my twoyear-old daughter and four daycare
kids. As they gathered around the television, questions they
didn't know how to ask filled their eyes. As The Flintstones
filtered through our living room, I closed the blinds and began
I stepped outside after a few minutes to see airmen in white
hospital uniforms walking the streets. "Back inside your house,
Ma'am!" They shouted at everyone who opened their front doors.
I complied and went to sit with the kids. The Flintstones was
interrupted by a news brief. We all sat glued to the TV as
reporters put bits and pieces together about Dean Melberg, who
went on a killing spree at the base hospital just two blocks away
- where my daughter had been born.
I fought back tears as I looked at the youngest boy in my
living room. His mother worked at the hospital.
Throughout the afternoon, stunned parents called to check
on their children, and that evening clutched them into grateful
hugs as they picked them up. I later learned that a psychologist
I had once seen (for gun phobia, ironically) had been shot and
killed, along with other hospital staff. Those last shots I heard
were from a security officer's gun - the fatal shots that ended
the rampage and Dean Melberg's life.
As we sorted through the emotional wreckage, the hospital
closed for renovations. They made plans to enclose the building
within the fence of the base to prevent any more unauthorized
In the meantime, a fence crumbled from around my heart - the
stone fence I had put up to imprison my emotions from another
shooting. All the news and hoopla surrounding the Melberg
killings chipped away at it until I could no longer avoid all the
horrifying details of what had happened back in November 1990.
Another fateful day
The day after Thanksgiving, five years earlier, I was in my
dorm room at Fort Lowry in Colorado. A knock sounded on the door.
I opened it to see the squadron runner standing before me. She
told me to report to the immediately.
It was a holiday, so hardly anyone was supposed to be on
duty that day, much less the captain. My chest squeezed with
dread as I followed her to the captain's office.
The captain met me at her door and ushered me in. She was
six feet tall with short blonde hair, and her intimidating
reputation had preceded her. No one wanted to get on her bad
I expected to stand at attention while she briefed me on
whatever was going on. Instead, she told me, "Sit down."
As I sat, the sick feeling in my gut increased. Instead of the
gruff commander we'd all come to fear and respect, I saw a woman
who was about to lose all of her professional composure. After a
half-minute of wiping her palms on her pants, switching
positions, and folding her hands, she simply said, "You need to
call your family.
Not knowing which family to call, since my parents were
divorced, I dialed my mom. When I got her on the line, she said,
"Oh, honey, did they tell you?" By now I knew that something
horrible had happened and that no one could form the words to
tell me what it was.
"Mom, what is going on?" I shouted into the payphone,
drawing stares from other students in the squadron. An officer
cleared the area, but I was already near hysterics as Mom tried
to explain that my Aunt Beckie, her sister, and three of my
cousins had been shot and killed. I continued to scream questions
like "Why?" and "That kind of stuff doesn't happen in Wyoming!"
The rest of the day was a blur. As I waited through the weekend
to fly to Buffalo, Wyoming, where my family lived, my friends
brought me food and tried to keep up a conversation. The captain
came by and told them to make sure I wasn't left alone. The next
day I had regained some composure and called my grandmother. "Did
they find who did it?" The answer had me reeling again. Beckie's
fifteen-year-old stepson had shot her and his three brothers with
a twelve-gauge shotgun. His confession made things easy for the
police but infinitely tougher for the rest of us.
Aunt Beckie had been one of my favorite people. She loved
life and laughed out loud often. Her sense of humor and practical
jokes were legendary. In my childhood, I spent many happy summer
nights at her house, playing in her huge backyard and lying in
her hammock. We went shopping and to the movies.
Aunt Beckie dedicated her life to her family, nursing
school, and the severely handicapped. Her compassion for others
belied logic, especially where her stepson was concerned. All
that was cut short the morning after Thanksgiving Day by the one
she'd tried to help the most.
Living with loss
The Melberg shooting on Fairchild AFB stirred up all those
emotions again, and I couldn't keep them from surfacing anymore.
I eventually quit the daycare; I barely had the ability to meet
the emotional needs of my own child, let alone other peoples'.
Since my husband was working swing shift, I had way too many
quiet hours after my little girl had gone to sleep each night. I
sat up in bed, reading my Bible and praying that God would take
away the pain.
The killings in my family were so senseless and wasteful; I
hated the killer. A life sentence with the possibility of parole
was way too good for him. I wanted him dead, just like my aunt
and three cousins. Most of all, I wanted him to pay for hurting
us so much.
Bitterness ate me alive, and I knew I could no longer go on
as if I were over it.
Over and over, I asked God, "Why?" Searching for answers, I
started reading the Bible from cover to cover.
One night I had gotten to the book of Chronicles when I
finally cried out to God, "How can I forgive him? Do You really
expect me to forgive a murderer? I hate him!"
Gently, God helped me picture Christ on the cross, where
He'd forgiven those who murdered Him. I realized my hatred was no
better than the hatred that caused this young man to pick up a
gun and blow away his family. Hatred did nothing to bring them
back; it only hurt me more. I could either let it consume me or
let it go. In short, I could forgive because Christ forgave.
Eighteen years later, I still see that as a significant mile mark
in my walk with Christ. I no longer harbor venomous thoughts
toward the young man who murdered my relatives, nor do I wish him
dead. Since he has still not expressed any remorse, I do feel he
should be in jail and that justice must be served. But I am free
from the bondage of bitterness.
Though I still tear up when I think of my aunt, especially
on her birthday and Thanksgiving, my heart swells when I imagine
seeing her again in eternity. It wouldn't be like her to run up
and hug me; she'd sneak behind and startle me with a loud "Boo!"
Our reunion will be full of raucous laughter, I'm sure.
I still grieve for the families of those who died in the
Fairchild AFB: hospital that day. I know how they feel. Somehow
one can't fully comprehend that sort of pain unless they have
gone through it.
As workers restored the hospital and declared it a place of
healing and peace, so God did in my soul. With new carpet and new
walls where bullet holes and blood had been, the staff could
provide health and well-being to their patients. In the same way,
God cut out the bitter black parts in my heart and replaced them
with compassion and hope. What seemed impossible - forgiveness -
God made into a beautiful reality.
Lynetta L. Smith writes from Spring Hill, TN.
Is there a national forgiveness week? If not, there should be.
The Jewish people offer forgiveness to one another prior to their
annual Day of Atonement.
Jesus told us if we come to the altar to offer a gift and
remember that someone has a grievance against us, we are to leave
our gift before the altar, not on it, go and make peace with our
brother or sister, and then offer our gift (Matthew 5:23,24). In
our day, we offer tithes and offerings to the church and our
prayers to God. Should not Christ's wisdom extend also to this?
We should be careful to keep short accounts with others, lest our
prayers be hampered by ,a spirit of bitterness. We cannot expect
God's forgiveness if we don't forgive others. We should also
forgive ourselves of all sins remitted by the Great Accountant.
Satan raises past sins to cause us to doubt our salvation. God
says that once our sins are forgiven, He casts them as far away
as the east is from the west. God will empower you to forgive
someone, even if that someone is you.
It is by faith that we accept God's forgiveness, and by faith we
find the desire and will to forgive others - no matter what.
Doing this releases us from the prison cell of hatred, sadness,
and defensiveness. Choosing to forgive, we can live in the
Lnda Storm, Joplin, Missouri
From "The Bible Advocate" - October/November 2009 - a publication
of the Church of God, Seventh Day, Denver, CO. USA.