I offer my prayers and love to the families, co-victims and survivors of all of those killed and injured in the Parkland school shooting.
As I watched the hearing this morning I remembered sitting in a similar courtroom when the killer of my mother, my cousins, and six others also faced the death penalty. It is so hard to be a family member in this situation, to have first experienced the murder of your loved one, and to have revisted all of that pain and anguish while hearing and seeing the most awful details during the trial process.
How can you not want vengeance for the killer? I was very conflicted, but by the time it was over, I knew that killing him would do nothing to help me heal. Yet in the Mother Emanuel case, the killer was sentenced to death. Because of that, we are still suffering in ways that could have been avoided. Last year at this time, Dylann Roof’s first appeal came up. It was six years after his crime, but just the experience of that appeal being a top headline in the news brought all of that anguish back not only to me, but on some level it ripped the scab off of the wounds of all of us touched by that crime.
This is the unintended but very real consequence of the death penalty. Rather than helping us heal, it keeps reopening our wounds. Because I know this from my own still-fresh experience, I hope the families in Parkland can see this as a turning point for them. Once the killer is sentenced, they can move toward healing. We can never get our loved ones back, but without a death sentence hanging over us we can remember our loved ones for who they were before the horrific epidemic of gun violence touched their lives.
I pray that the families and everyone touched by this horrible crime will find a way to accept what the jury has recommended as a good thing. I am relieved that once the sentencing is complete and we throw away the key on Nikolas Cruz, that they can heal and find joy in the memories of how their precious loved ones lived, not in how they died.
I pray that God will give them comfort, and also that God will give Nikolas Cruz the opportunity to understand what he has done and that he can find a way to use the remainder of his life for good, even in prison.
Rev. Sharon Risher is the daughter of Ethel Lance, one of the victims in the 2015 massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and the Chair of the Board of Directors, Death Penalty Action. Rev. Risher is available for interviews by contacting Abraham Bonowitz, executive director of Death Penalty Action, at 561-371-5204.