Editor’s Note: On March 28, 2010, Kate and Andy Grosmaire received two pieces of news that would change their lives forever. The first was their worst nightmare: “Ann has been shot.” And the second was the dumbfounding addendum: “Conor was the one who shot her.” The following is an excerpt of their story, a journey staked out from moment one of intentional forgiveness.
“Do you mind if I pray?” our friend Bob Schuchts asked Tuesday evening. Bob was a counselor involved in the healing ministry at church. He and Andy had crossed paths during one of the weekend retreats Andy attended fourteen years earlier. I got to know him through many interactions over the years. We could tell he was in shock at seeing Ann in the hospital bed, but mostly at seeing what we were living through.
The prayers of our community seemed to be lifting us up and protecting us from the depths to which we could’ve sunk.
“Please do,” Andy said, as we all bowed our heads.
“Wait,” I said, opening my eyes for a moment. “Will you pray for the McBrides too?”
“Conor’s parents?” he asked.
“And Conor,” I said, very deliberately. I hadn’t had time to really process all my feelings toward Conor or the McBrides. However, I knew our response to them needed to be right and full of grace.
“We’re getting so much love and attention from our friends and community, but they’ve lost a child this week too,” I said. “They’re not a part of a church body, so I don’t know if anyone is reaching out to them.”
Tragedies bring out the best and worst in us, and, as mentioned before, often people’s attempts to explain a horrifying event turn into accusations against the perpetrator’s parents. What kind of parents would raise a kid like that? They must’ve done something really wrong. How did his parents not see the types of magazines he read? Didn’t they notice he was gloomy? Didn’t they see the warning signs?
To help make sense of it, people have to establish rather quickly that there’s a significant difference between the way they’ve raised their families and the way a murderer was raised. It’s a reassur- ing myth.
This couldn’t have happened in my family.
While we were losing our daughter, our community was rallying around us. As the McBrides were losing their son in a real way, they were being isolated from their community. Their lives would forever be marred by what he’d done — isolated by unspoken accusations, unanswered questions, and wild suspicions.
“It’s easy to feel sorry for us,” Andy continued. “But what they’re going through — being the parents of someone who did something terrible — has to be… in a way…” His voice broke. “Worse.”
Bob didn’t respond, but I could tell that he was deeply touched by what we were saying. Instead, he simply bowed his head and prayed.
“Lord Jesus,” he began. In those two words, so much anguish, compassion, and love. Sometimes when people prayed for me during these times, I didn’t necessarily hear all of their careful words. Instead, I just let myself feel swaddled by them, as a baby feels the comfort of a bunting.
A few minutes into the prayer, Bob stopped praying when he heard a knock on the door. I jolted back into reality. Instead of being lifted up in prayer before the throne of God, I opened my eyes and saw that I was just in a hospital room — institutional white tiles beneath my feet, and fluorescent lighting washing the life out of me. Andy dropped my hand, walked across the room, and pulled open the heavy wooden door.
On the other side of it were Michael and Julie McBride.
We’d already seen Michael, who’d come to visit just hours after the shooting, but this was the first time we’d seen them as a couple. Bob stood to leave, but I motioned to the chair in the corner. “Stay. Please.”
“We can’t say we’re sorry enough,” Julie blurted out, tears run- ning down her face.
I walked over to Julie and gave her a big hug. I didn’t quite understand all that had happened over the past two days, but I knew this: we were bound to the McBrides in a way that no one else could understand, and we needed to be with them during this time.
“Do people come by?” Andy asked the McBrides. Every day their address had been published in the newspapers as the location of the shooting. “Are you getting phone calls?”
“Not really,” Michael said. “In fact, it’s been quieter than you’d think.”
“Is the press hounding you?” I asked. I imagined the media camping out on the doorstep of the McBrides’ home, giving them no space to grieve without cameras flashing in their faces.
“Yes, but we aren’t answering their questions,” Michael said. “No one wants to hear what we think.”
“We have people from our church who are praying for us all day. We’ve asked them to pray for you too.”
Julie looked down at the Kleenex Andy had given her. “We had friends who came by the house even before I got home to clean things up.” I thought of her coming home to a house surrounded by Do Not Enter tape, and of the women who were caring enough to spare their friend what was inside.
“How is Katy?” I asked. Two years younger than Conor, Katy was his sister with special needs. I remembered a conversation that I’d had with Ann and Conor about the possibility that they might have to care for Katy later in their lives.
“We told her that Conor did something bad to Ann, and that he had to go away to be punished. She doesn’t quite understand it all. How can I explain it to her?” Julie replied.
I took Julie’s hands, looked in her eyes, and said, “We don’t define Conor by that one moment.”
There’s no way to understand a person’s essence by judging one moment of his life. If we defined Conor only as a murderer, that would mean defining my daughter only as a murder victim. If I left him in that place, I was leaving her in that place too. I refused to leave Ann there.
Another memory came to me, of an afternoon talk show with a mother so distraught over her daughter’s murder that years later she still cried daily. She could not get past her daughter’s death. The show’s counselor asked her if she was honoring her daughter’s life by only focusing on the way she died. Ann was an incredible young woman, and I wasn’t going to let one dark moment over- shadow her life. I had to let go, let go of anything that would hold me in that dark place — which meant forgiving Conor.
“Who would want to be defined for the rest of their life by the worst thing they ever did?” I asked.
No one answered, the silence affirming the truth we all knew. We are more than our sins.
Later, Bob described the moments of stillness and quiet during this initial meeting as “a hush of the presence of God.” Even though it was the Holy Week of Easter, perhaps the best soundtrack for the interaction would’ve been “Silent Night.” There was a calmness, a tenderness so powerful it was almost palpable. One could easily imagine heavenly hosts surrounding us and singing alleluia in that moment. It was a night of redemption, of people quaking at the sight of such loss, such love. Both loss and love. Strongly. At once.
But Ann wasn’t sleeping in heavenly peace. She was fighting for her life.
Andy cleared his throat and broke the silence. “How’s Conor?”
“He’s still at the Leon County jail. He’s on suicide watch in the medical pod,” Michael said.
“You haven’t visited him?”
“I’ve only spoken to him.” He noticed my surprised look, and explained, “He’s nineteen, so he’s not a juvenile. That means they don’t give the parents any special visitation. We’re trying to get a good defense attorney now, and we’re hoping to see him soon. I know he just added Julie and me to the list.”
“What list?” Andy asked.
“The jail allows him to make a list of people who can visit him,” Michael said. “He only gets four, and we’re two of them. He wants to add you, too, Kate.”
He nodded solemnly, looking at the ground. “Now that Conor’s named his four, the list can’t be changed for a month.”
“Why me and not Andy?” I said. It seemed to me that he’d want a man-to-man talk after everything that happened.
“Conor’s so sorry about what happened,” Michael said, slow- ing down the words to make them somehow fit the scope of the moment. Normally when someone apologizes, it’s over something insignificant. I’m so sorry I spilled my wine on you. I’m sorry I’m late. I’m sorry I forgot your birthday. I could tell Michael was struggling over the inadequacy of the words. He was right to struggle, because words weren’t enough. His “sorry” couldn’t change what happened, heal our devastated hearts, or put Ann back at the Thanksgiving dinner table. But what the McBrides didn’t know — what perhaps I didn’t even know — was this: I was beginning to forgive the man who shot my daughter.
Conor put me on his visitation list for a specific reason. In a way, it made sense. We’d grown very close over the years that he and Ann had dated. For a couple of months he even slept under our roof. When the police told us that Ann had been shot, my first question was “Where’s Conor?” I knew he’d be one of the first people she’d want by her side.
If Sunday hadn’t happened, Conor and Ann would’ve been dreaming about engagement rings. It was hard for me to suddenly recategorize him from almost family to the enemy.
“It’d help him so much if you could go,” Michael said in a slightly pleading tone. “He’d like to see you.”
I tried to speak, but I felt a catch in my throat. From the very beginning I cared about what was happening to Conor. Even when I read online that he’d driven around for forty-five minutes before turning himself in to the police, I wasn’t outraged. I was gravely disheartened and anguished over his behavior. But I wasn’t angry.
That didn’t mean I wanted to go down to the jail and see Conor. I just didn’t not want to see him.
My name had taken up a space on a very short list. It implied an obligation.
Would I be able to meet it?
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Excerpted with permission from Forgiving My Daughter’s Killer: A True Story Of Loss, Faith, And Unexpected Grace by Kate Grosmaire, copyright Kathleen A Grosmaire.
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…As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. — Colossians 3:13
Corrie ten Boom said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” All of us will at some point in our lives face unforgivable sins against us or those that we love. We will all wrestle with whether or not we will forgive anyway or not. I have been there and you have likely been there, too. And we’ll continue to need to forgive deep offenses and injuries. It may not be for a horror such as the shooting of a loved one, but forgiveness requires radical faith and trust in Jesus Christ nonetheless. My journey of forgiveness has turned out to be much more about my relationship with my Savior than the crimes and sins done against me. What about you? As Corrie said, the paradox is that forgiving actually sets us free. Come share with us on our blog! We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full