Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On Forgiveness and Remembrance

Can you even begin to imagine how you would feel if your son shot five innocent little girls and injured permanently five others, then shot himself? Recently, I read a newspaper article about the mother of the man who tied up ten little girls inside an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania several years ago, shot to death five of them, and wounded five others. This woman goes once a week to the home of one of those girls to bathe her, feed her through a tube, sing to her, and read to her. Despite the agony, she has found a way to forgive her son. Along with members of the Amish community, she has moved beyond the horror and grief to a place of peace and forgiveness. Her other son is making a documentary film about her “journey from heartbroken mother in inspirational speaker.” He wants to make sure the subject does not become “one of those dark family secrets that nobody talks about.”[1]

Reading this story evoked thoughts of Aunt Mandy's daughter, Geneva, and her killer, James Lammers. What if I were James Lammers’ mother? Could I forgive him for murdering my grandchildren and my daughter-in-law? For hurting me so deeply? My hunch is that if his family forgave him, it didn’t happen very soon. One of the newspaper articles noted that the last time his parents and his brother visited him in prison was in May 1951, eight months before he was executed. Did his deed become a “dark family secret” that no one mentioned?

If I were Geneva’s mother, her siblings, her aunts, uncles, and cousins, could I forgive him? When it happened, I was too young to remember, and in later years, I never took the time to talk to my father or my aunts and uncles about it. My father showed me the magazine that told the story, but I don’t recall any malice from him toward James Lammers, only sadness.

When I began to investigate this story, my aim was to learn more about Geneva and her children and to memorialize them, but I didn’t know the names of the children. I created a memorial to Geneva on Find A Grave web site. Then a volunteer added a photo of Geneva’s tombstone, which did not name the children. What were their names? Fortunately, the newspaper articles named them, so I created memorials for them, too. Later while searching the Internet, I found the story of James Lammers’ execution. It included the name of the cemetery where James was buried, so I created a memorial for him, too, linked in my previous blog. Another volunteer added a photo of his tombstone showing bright red flowers on his grave. Who had placed the flowers?

Unfortunately, when someone is murdered, the killer gets all the media attention for months, even years afterward. His name becomes notorious while the names of the victims are nearly forgotten. Geneva, Laura, Melva, LaVerne and a little one unborn must be cherished in the family’s memory. Hopefully, forgiveness can be offered their killer.

[1] Michael Rubinkam, “Amish School Shooter’s Family Seeks Healing,” The [Anderson, Indiana] Herald Bulletin, 10 December 2013, p. C2, col. 1-6.

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