Mourning family members of a Cleveland man whose murder on Easter Sunday was posted online in a Facebook video said that despite their grief, they forgive their father’s killer.
“Each one of us forgives the killer. The murderer. We want to wrap our arms around him,” said Tonya Godwin Baines in a CNN interview.
She said that it was her slain father who taught her, through the example of his life, how to forgive.
“The thing that I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God. How to fear God. How to love God. And how to forgive.”
On Sunday afternoon, 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. was shot and killed in Cleveland while walking home from Easter dinner with his family. Police said that the suspect, 37-year-old Steve Stephens, apparently chose his victim at random, and then uploaded a video of the murder to Facebook. The social media network later removed the video.
Following a nationwide manhunt, authorities were notified that Stephens’ car had been seen in a McDonald’s parking lot near Erie, Pennsylvania on Tuesday morning. Stephens shot and killed himself after a brief pursuit, police said.
On Monday night, Anderson Cooper spoke with Godwin Sr.’s children in a CNN interview, asking them if there was anything they would like to tell the suspect, who at the time was still at-large.
In addition to encouraging Stephens to turn himself in, Debbie Godwin voiced her forgiveness, saying, “(Y)ou know what, I believe that God would give me the grace to even embrace this man. And hug him.”
“It’s just the way my heart is, it’s the right thing to do. And so, I just would want him to know that even in his worst state, he’s loved…that God loves him, even in the bad stuff that he did to my dad…even though he’s going to have to go through many things to get better, there’s worth in him. And as long as there’s life in him, there is hope for him too.”
Though shocked and deeply pained by their father’s brutal murder, the children said they felt sorry for his killer.
“I honestly can say right now that I hold no animosity in my heart against this man. Because I know that he’s a sick individual,” Debbie said.
She added that she is able to forgive him because of her faith in God.
“I could not do that if I did not know God, if I didn’t know him as my God and my savior, I could not forgive that man,” she said.