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Revelations column: Shiner homicide prompts prayer for the evil molester, too

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
June 15, 2012 at 1:15 a.m.
Updated June 16, 2012 at 1:16 a.m.


On Saturday night, I received a call in the office: "There was a homicide in Shiner earlier today, see what you can find out."

There are many journalists who salivate at these types of calls, knowing it could be the big story of their career. But for me, it's the sort of call I never want to get.

Not to sound like a callous reporter, but they're often time-consuming stories, emotionally draining, and there's always a part of me that knows that one day, I'll be assigned to work a homicide story that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Saturday's phone call would turn out to be just that.

I made plans Saturday to drive out to Shiner in an attempt to uncover more details of the incident. On the way to Lavaca County, I spoke with Sheriff Micah Harmon, who released the preliminary facts of the case:

A father physically struck a man to death after discovering a 47-year-old man attempting to sexually assault his 4-year-old daughter in a pasture along County Road 302.

It was 3:45 p.m. when the incident happened - the middle of an otherwise enjoyable Saturday afternoon, I thought. The kind of day any 4-year-old would love to be outside, playing in a pasture.

The report began to permeate, and I knew if I attached emotionally, projected any maternal instincts on the girl, or allowed myself to remember all the friends I've known through the years who've struggled with childhood molestation trauma, I wouldn't be able to do my job.

So, I made a conscious effort to shift to reporter mode - otherwise known as my emotionless self.

I only do this when I know I have to function without prejudice.

But the hour it takes to drive to Shiner, was plenty of time for the Sheriff's report to sink in. My mind went to a dark place, visualizing the little girl and the 47-year-old man in the pasture. How terrified she must have been, I thought, should the integrity of the report turn out to be accurate.

Not only would she have to deal with the trauma of the sexual assault for the rest of her life, she would likely experience additional trauma from witnessing her father beat a man to death to save her from bodily harm.

And here I was, a stranger, the jerk reporter who had to go hunt down the family and ask, "So, your 4-year-old daughter was allegedly sexually assaulted this afternoon, and you just beat a man to death. What information would you like to share with me?"

I was half convinced that if I found the father at all, he might commit a second homicide that day.

My instincts as a journalist, woman and aunt of three small children (one of whom is 4 years old) were in moral opposition. There would be enough trauma for the family to deal with already without me immortalizing the horrific event in the newspaper for her and her family to read years later.

I wanted to protect the girl, the father. I wanted to pray for the dead man. I wanted God to explain why something like this could happen to such an innocent child. I wanted answers to unanswerable questions.

It was no surprise that by Monday, the Shiner homicide story had generated statewide interest. But I had no idea that by mid-Monday, the story would reach national interest. On Tuesday, it even stretched overseas to the United Kingdom.

And with so many people weighing in on the case, either commenting on the story or discussing it on television, the subject of God and the Bible, and what they both say about murder, justice and the evils of the world, continued to appear.

If you click on any of the articles, many of the comments go back and forth about whether this father acted on his God-given (and Texas-given) rights to protect his child, on his property, from sexual assault.

Many people have subsequently asked me how I can love a God that allows this kind of brazen evil to happen to children.

And I've responded the only way I know how. I tell them I don't know.

But I do know that I believe in a loving God who died for the world and forgives in abundance. And, unfortunately for the world sometimes, he did so equally for the unlovable, the dangerous and evil.

And as a good pastor friend reminded me this week, we can't blame God for the free will of man. Sometimes having free will means bad things happen, and innocence is corrupted.

But without free will, without an ability to make our own decisions to act rightly and wrongly, we wouldn't be able to experience God's grace, provision and forgiveness.

I know many agree the deceased deserved what he got - death. I'm not sure anyone would say they would act any differently than the father if faced with similar circumstances. But I can say that since Saturday, all I've been able to think is I once deserved death, too - and Christ chose to die for me instead.

For the rest of my life, I'll be haunted by that fact. And hopefully I'll be reminded to pray for the unlovable, dangerous and evil people who at one time also shared my fate. Maybe the Shiner homicide case is what I needed to thank God for free will.

Jennifer Preyss is the faith columnist for the Victoria Advocate. You may reach her at 361-580-6535 or jlpreyss@vicad.com or Twitter @jenniferpreyss.

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