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Forgiving My Daughter's Killer
A True Story of Loss, Faith, and Unexpected Grace
By Kate Grosmaire, Nancy French
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 Kathleen A. Grosmaire
All rights reserved.
Andy, can you get the door, please?" I yelled from our upstairs bedroom.
I listened for my husband.
The doorbell rang, as it tends to do, just as I'd gotten undressed. I kicked my dirt-clothes away from my feet and reached for a sundress from my closet.
It was late March. Andy and I had been gardening, as we worked to transform a pasture — our horse BJ used to live — a haven for tomatoes, peppers, and beans. We'd inherited the horse years ago from Andy's sister, and when Andy and I worried we didn't have the time to devote to BJ's care, we had found him a nice home in Georgia where they cared for older horses. BJ would be happy in the company of other horses, but it still bothered Ann, our youngest daughter, to see him go. Her boyfriend, Conor, had come over the afternoon BJ left and comforted Ann in the backyard by the orange trees.
Ann had always loved animals. When she was four, she tried to surprise us with a wriggling snake nearly as long as she was tall — would've succeeded had it not slipped away. Over the years, she carried her guinea pigs — Snuggles, Holly, Elvis, Snickers, and Pumpkin — pillows and wheeled them around the house in a toy school bus. By the time we got BJ, she was twelve. She immediately began caring for him — him, brushing him, and making appointments for the farrier to trim his hooves. Once, while waiting for the vet to arrive, Ann went out to the pasture to sit with her colicky half-baby. Though I was intimidated by the animal's size and strength, Ann tenderly stroked his head when he was sick and firmly reined him in when he was healthy.
That little girl in braids was now in college.
After BJ's departure, we had a sunny pasture and a nice pile of horse manure — ingredients for a great garden. We borrowed a tiller and clawed through the hard-dirt. Our daughter Sarah helped us form the five rows in which I'd plant my seedlings. Good gardeners plant several seeds in each container, then weed out the weaklings. But I ignore the directions and give each seed its own space, to offer it at least a fighting chance at life.
Of course, that means I sometimes have more plants than I really need. In February I had started four trays of plants: two trays of tomatoes, one of peppers, one of zucchini and watermelon. Four dozen plants? The entire garden would be packed.
But every seed deserved a chance.
Early that spring, my sugar snap peas and pole beans were thriving, but everything else had to wait until the threat of frost had passed. In North Florida that's around the first of April. During the last weekend of March, I began to transfer the seedlings outdoors. If I was lucky, my tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini would come in just as it was getting too hot for the sugar snap peas and pole beans.
The Florida sun had not yet developed its punishing summer rays, but it was still eighty degrees outside. Andy had pushed a wheelbarrow full of dirt from one side of the yard to the other and was tending the flowerbeds as I worked on my tomato seedlings. I'd already planted the melons and squash, but that day I was planting tomatoes and peppers. I planned to put them in salads and — the harvest proved abundant — them to work to share with friends.
As I patted the loose dirt around the little plants with my spade, I whispered a few lines I had delivered that morning in church. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." It was Passion Sunday, a week before Easter, and I had volunteered to read the Scripture related to "the good thief" for the gospel reading. The warm soil got under my fingernails, and I wiped perspiration from my brow. While I planted the vegetables, Andy planted flowers. I loved how carefully he arranged them in the beds, as if he were tucking them in. He loves irises, but they won't grow in Florida, which lacks a prolonged cold season. He planted some canna lilies in the sunny areas to make our home look warm and inviting.
Not that we have many visitors. Being situated in a rural neighborhood about five miles outside of Tallahassee, we don't get many drop-Trick-and religious doorknockers frequently skip our house, which sits far back on a three-corner lot in the neighborhood. Plus, we've never gotten around to making a walkway from the drive to the front door. When friends come over, especially for parties, we have everyone park in the "back forty," which is the grass around the workshop. Everyone who knows us comes in through the back door.
"Andy?" I yelled as I yanked the sundress over my head and rushed barefoot out of my room.
The doorbell rang again.
Undoubtedly, it was a stranger ... probably a freckle-Boy Scout trying to unload overpriced popcorn. I wondered if I had enough cash in my purse.
Andy arrived at the door at about the same time I got to the bottom of the stairs.
"Where were you?" I asked.
"Washing up," he said, but I could tell by one look at him that he'd been interrupted. His shirt and pants were covered in dirt, and the hair around his face was still a little wet from his attempt to clean up.
We exchanged quizzical glances before he placed his hand on the door.
We didn't know it, but that was the last second of "normal" we'd ever have. It was as if the doorknob were invisibly connected to our fate, turning our lives upside down.
Two women stood solemnly on our porch. One was dressed in business attire: white blouse, dark skirt, and dress shoes. The other wore a deputy sheriff's uniform. Her brown hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail, revealing a stern face. I looked out and noticed a Leon County Sheriff's car in the driveway. The lights weren't flashing.
"Are you Ann Grosmaire's parents?" the first woman asked.
"My name is Gwen Williams. May we come in? We have some news about your daughter Ann."
"What's wrong?" Andy asked. My husband, the big guy who tenderly plants flowers and gives better bear hugs than anyone, suddenly switched from Sunday afternoon mode into business mode.
"We'd like to come in," she repeated calmly.
One second passed, during which I could tell Andy was surveying the situation. Andy told me later that he had the immediate urge to say, "We didn't do anything wrong!" Strange thoughts go through your mind when a cop shows up on your doorstep. Andy stepped aside, and I showed them to our living room and motioned for them to sit on the love seat. Gwen sat, and the deputy sheriff stood behind her. Andy and I sat on the sofa next to our wood-stove.
"I'm a victim's advocate from the sheriff's office," Gwen said.
When she said "victim's advocate," I sighed in relief. At least Ann hadn't gotten into trouble. They weren't there to accuse her of wrongdoing.
But her next sentence evaporated any temporary comfort.
"Ann has been shot."
The sentence hung in the air. My mind raced to fill the space around it.
Ann didn't frequent dangerous areas of town. In fact, her life was pretty idyllic. She worked in a baby boutique that sold gifts for newborns. Earlier that week, I'd asked her about a gift for a pregnant friend who was having a baby shower at church.
"Mom, you have to get the Sophie the Giraffe teether," she said. "It is the most adorable thing ever!"
I looked at the giraffe and bit my lip. It was cute, but part of me wondered if I should just play it safe and get something Diana had put on her wish list.
"No, Mom," she said. "You have to get this one. I recommend it to all my customers." Her enthusiasm caused me to relent. I loved how much she enjoyed the boutique. She'd frequently text me photos of the latest sleepers and laboring gowns. And Ann was right; the giraffe ended up being a hit at the shower.
Was the store robbed? Who would rob a baby boutique? It's hardly a great target. Plus, it's Sunday, so the store isn't even open. Where else could she have gotten hurt? By this time, it dawned on me that Ann was not at work. Wasn't she with Conor today?
Conor lived in an apartment building filled with other college students from the area. Were they at his apartment with those roommates I knew nothing about? Did his roommates have guns? Was she visiting him when things got rowdy and a gun somehow went off?
To fill the vacuum left by Gwen's words, my imagination quickly painted a picture of what had happened.
There's been an accident, a terrible mistake. Ann's been shot in her stomach, but it isn't serious. She has a small wound. She's going to survive.
"Is she okay?" I asked. "Is Conor with her?"
Conor was practically part of the family, and in fact, he wanted to make it official. Just a few months ago, he'd told Andy that he wanted to marry Ann. If Conor was with her, I knew he would soothe her until we could get to the hospital.
"Conor McBride?" the deputy sheriff asked.
"Conor was the one who shot her," she said. Her tone was matter-Professional. No judgment.
I looked at her blankly, trying to process what she had said.
Conor shot Ann.
Gwen began speaking again. She had a compassionate demeanor, as though she cared very much how we were going to receive her information.
"She's at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, and we are here to make sure you get to the hospital safely," she said slowly. She clearly had practiced dealing with people in shock. She paused to make sure we understood our options. "We can take you, or you can follow us in your car."
"How is she?" Andy asked. I'd worked at a hospital before, so I knew his question was pointless. No one but doctors can discuss a patient's condition. "Where? How?"
"All we can tell you is that she's holding her own."
Holding her own. That was all we would know until we reached the hospital.
"We'll need our own car, so we'll follow you," Andy said, getting up from the sofa. At home, he's the kind of husband who takes care of things around the house. He happily makes dinner — specialty is fettuccine Alfredo. But he also has another side of him that I rarely see. As a bureau chief for a state agency, he oversees and manages seventy-employees. He's used to being in charge, and I knew there was no way he'd be driven to the hospital. Not at a time like this. "I'll drive," he said.
We rushed up the stairs to change clothes and grab our things. Emergency rooms take forever even with minor injuries,I thought. I should change into something that might be okay for a long day at the hospital. Khakis and a top. Andy put on a T-and shorts. As we were changing, I grabbed Andy's hand. "We need to pray." There, in our bedroom, we held hands.
"Jesus, be there with Ann and be there with her doctors and watch over her and take care of her," I said.
Not a second passed before I added, "And be with Conor too."
We followed the sheriff's car to the hospital, which was about eight miles from our house. As Andy drove, I grabbed my phone. "Who should we call?"
"Why don't you wait until we know something," Andy said quietly. Ever since I've known him, he's always been a rock during times of crisis. He doesn't pace or become anxious. He can place his emotions to the side, compartmentalize.
I, on the other hand, fret and worry. Once, when our middle daughter, Allyson, broke her arm after getting a pair of Rollerblades for Christmas, Andy was the one who scooped her up and took her to the emergency room. I was beside myself at home — my mom and any friends who would pick up the phone — Andy was as calm as a windless sea.
Andy put on his blinker to turn onto Miccosukee Road. Even without taking his natural serenity into account, I understood his hesitance to tell people. Putting the situation into words would make it real in a way.
Ann has been shot.
We received the information as we would a stack of mail. Passively. To call someone, the information would need to pass through our ears, hearts, and brains, and then emerge from our mouths. Somehow along the way, it would transform an idea into a fact.
Ann has been shot.
Andy just wanted to focus on driving, on learning the facts, on getting to his daughter. He held onto the steering wheel in the ten and two o'clock positions. Even as I chattered, he didn't speak unless necessary. He didn't speculate.
I searched through the contacts on my phone.
"Who are you calling?"
Even though we lacked information, I wanted to share the news so people could start praying for Ann. I felt anxious, as if someone was squeezing my heart.
"We need to call a priest."
I called the church rectory and left a message. Then I called Sherry, a friend of ours who is a nurse in the emergency room.
After that conversation, Andy saw that I still had my phone out. "Just how many people are you going to call?"
"We need prayers," I said. Andy definitely wanted people's prayers, but it hadn't occurred to him that telling people was the first step of that process.
Next I called my oldest daughter, Sarah, who lived in Pensacola, and broke the news. She and her husband, Scott, would drive over right away. Then I called Allyson, a senior at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
"Do you have anyone who can drive you here?" I asked. I knew she'd be too upset to drive.
"Jamie's here," she said.
"Hand the phone over," I said. I gave Jamie very specific instruction to drive safely and to get Allyson here as quickly as possible.
Then I called Kathleen, a friend from church, and asked her to send out an e-so people could start praying. I provided the only information I had. Lastly, I called Janis, a friend who is an absolute anchor. She's the type of person who's completely willing to be there for someone when needed and willing to disappear when she's not. Everyone's reaction, obviously, was total surprise. But even as I told my dear friends, people all over the sleepy little town of Tallahassee were logging on to their computers and reading about the young man who had shot his girlfriend.
Thankfully, I didn't realize in that moment that our personal tragedy was about to become a public item of interest. I just wanted to get to Ann.
Upon our arrival, a nurse told us a doctor would be in to see us shortly. She ushered us into a windowless room before disappearing into the hospital corridor. We could hear the bustle and noise of the ER outside the door. Doctors being paged, stretchers being wheeled down the hallway.
As we waited, Father Chris from our church showed up, his blue eyes full of concern. Soon after, our friend Sherry showed up, as well as Kathleen.
It's probably just a small wound, not a life-injury,I thought to myself. I knew we wouldn't see Ann until they were done working on her, and I knew that took time. The length of our wait didn't concern me as much as the reason we were there in the first place.
But Andy was a fish out of water in the hospital. With every passing minute, the small room suffocated any hope he had about Ann. He had expected the hospital you see on TV shows, where the doctor meets you in the hall as soon as you arrive and delivers the news.
"Why do you think it's taking them so long?" he asked, his eyes grave with worry. Suddenly our roles were reversed.
"Everything takes time," I assured him. From my hospital experience I knew that there's paperwork and a procedure for everything.
"I think they're delaying because they just don't want to break the news to us." His voice drifted off.
I glanced at my phone. Its clock automatically adjusted for daylight savings time, which had occurred that day. It confused me, since the clock in the car hadn't been turned ahead. I tried to glance outside, but the windowless room revealed no clues. Andy felt as if we'd waited for hours, but isn't that how time works? The more time you want, and the more you need time to move forward, the more it seems to stand still.
"They're hiding something," Andy said, sitting motionless in his chair. At work he was used to being the one giving orders, making decisions. I could tell it troubled him to sit and wait for someone else to come and give him information.
"You don't know that," my friend Sherry said comfortingly. "The doctor will come just as soon as he's free. Just wait and see what he says."
My phone's reception flickered in and out, but I still managed to alert people of our whereabouts.
Ann has been shot.
No matter whom I told or how many times I said it, it didn't feel real. The trauma settled over me like a fog — me from feeling the cold, harsh reality of the situation.
When a doctor and a nurse finally came in, they stood in the corner of the room. The nurse held a clipboard.
Excerpted from Forgiving My Daughter's Killer by Kate Grosmaire, Nancy French. Copyright © 2016 Kathleen A. Grosmaire. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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