The Other Side of Suffering: The Father of JonBenet Ramsey Tells the Story of His Journey from Grief to Graceby John Ramsey
The untold story of how John Ramsey survived unspeakable tragedy and learned to hope again.
Like the biblical Job, John Ramsey had it all-wealthy, social position, a loving family. And like Job, Ramsey was destined for great affliction, as many of the most precious things in his life were cruelly taken from him.
First came the death of his eldest daughter in a
The untold story of how John Ramsey survived unspeakable tragedy and learned to hope again.
Like the biblical Job, John Ramsey had it all-wealthy, social position, a loving family. And like Job, Ramsey was destined for great affliction, as many of the most precious things in his life were cruelly taken from him.
First came the death of his eldest daughter in a car accident in 1992. Then, four years later, his beloved six-year-old, JonBenét, was murdered; Ramsey was the one who discovered her body, concealed in the basement of his family's home. The case drew international media attention, and-compounding Ramsey's woe-suspicion unfairly focused on Ramsey and his wife, Patsy. Although they were ultimately cleared of any connection with the crime, Ramsey's sorrows did not end. In 2006, Patsy died, at 49, of ovarian cancer.
In this remarkable book, Ramsey reveals how he was sustained by faith during the long period of spiritual darkness, and he offers hope and encouragement to others who suffer tragedy and injustice.
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The Other Side of SufferingThe Father of JonBenet Ramsey Tells the Story of His Journey from Grief to Grace
By Ramsey, John
FaithWordsCopyright © 2012 Ramsey, John
All right reserved.
Struck by Evil
Let the little children come to Me.
I’ll start with Christmas.
Because I must.
The long anticipated day after weeks of shopping, decorating, preparing, this exciting festive day finally arrived. Our children were first to rise in the early hours of the morning to rush up the stairs to our third-floor bedroom in our home in Boulder, Colorado, and wake us up with squeals of excitement. JonBenét, our six-year-old daughter, jumped on my chest. “Daddy, wake up, wake up! It’s Christmas!” It was 1996.
Patsy smiled at me as Burke, our nine-year-old son, and JonBenét jumped on the end of the bed. “Meeerrrrry Christmas!” I reached for them, and the four of us rolled about on the bed hugging, laughing, tickling, and excited about the day at hand.
“Santa’s been here, I know it!” JonBenét exclaimed. “Come on, you guys. Let’s go see!” and with a tug and a yank, we were out of bed to go check out what Santa had brought this year.
There’s something so wonderful about children who’ve just awakened, tousled and warm in their pajamas, smelling of sleep. I felt a sense of deep contentment watching them bound down the stairs to the living room, where they’d discover their presents under the enormous Fraser fir Christmas tree. “Come on, Daddy!”
It was my job to plug in the Christmas tree lights, turn on the Christmas music, and get the camera set up. I decided not to be the photographer this year because I wanted to be part of the festivities, not just an observer. Of all times not to video. I’ve regretted that.
Our rule was no presents until the tree lights were lit and the music was playing. “Hurry up, Daddy!”
People always say Christmas is for children, and Patsy and I tried to make it just that. We celebrated the birth of Jesus, sang carols, gave parties and dinners, and bought gifts, and the children performed in their school programs. This year they were both in the Annual Children’s Christmas Parade, which wove around downtown Boulder.
Christmas was going to be extra special this year because the morning after, on the twenty-sixth, we planned to fly to our vacation home in Michigan to celebrate the holidays with my son and daughter from my first marriage, John Andrew and Melinda. They were flying in from Atlanta. We would then ring in the new year and Patsy’s birthday on December twenty-ninth on the Disney Big Red Boat. It would be our first cruise ever, and it was chosen to be something special for the kids. I wasn’t sure if hanging around with Mickey Mouse was going to be fun for me, but I knew it would be wonderful to see my children having a great time.
On Christmas Eve, we’d hauled all the gifts up from the basement, where Patsy had wrapped and hidden them. We bought a new bicycle for JonBenét, which we kept out of sight at our neighbor’s, a Nintendo 64 video game for Burke, and heaped around the tree were the many toys and gifts from our families. It had been a full day with last-minute preparations—Christmas Eve service at church, then out to dinner at Pasta Jay’s, and our annual drive around town to admire the lights, with the crowning stop at the top of Flagstaff Mountain to the lighted star that shines down on the city.
Patsy bought a My Twinn doll from a doll maker who specialized in creating dolls from photographs to look like the child who would own it. She had been thrilled to find this doll maker, and even bought a couple of matching outfits so JonBenét and the doll could dress alike. JonBenét opened the box Christmas morning, took one look, and wrinkled her nose. “Thanks, Mommy,” she said politely, but we could tell she was more interested in other toys.
Patsy shrugged, then examined the doll in the box and gave a shudder. Leaning toward me, she whispered, “John, this doll lying in the box like this with her blond hair spread out and eyes closed—my gosh, it looks like a child in a casket! It kind of gives me the creeps.”
I gave the box only a quick glance, because I was preoccupied with watching Burke unwrap the dark green Pontiac GTO remote-control car I had chosen for him. Later Patsy remembered the life-sized doll and agonized that perhaps it had been a warning. If it was a warning, it went right over our heads. We were too busy being happy.
JonBenét had chosen a surprise for me and insisted I open it first. When she had taken a trip to New York City earlier in the year with her mother, they visited FAO Schwarz, where she spotted a gumball machine that popped out jellybeans. “Daddy has to have that!” she exclaimed to her mother. “Daddy loves jelly beans!” She and Patsy had kept it a secret until now, and I was really touched. “Honey, it’s the best present ever. Thank you!”
Hugs and more hugs. Presents and more presents. Oohs and ahhs and more oohs and ahhs. Thank-yous and wows. A gold chain with a gold cross for JonBenét, which she insisted on wearing immediately. A gold bracelet with her name and 12-25-96 inscribed on it. Gene Autry in the background singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Then our traditional Christmas breakfast. I made the pancakes; the kids decorated them with raisins, fruit, chocolate chips, and colored sprinkles; and Mom cooked the bacon and the corned beef hash. “…had a very shiny noooose…”
JonBenét was the chef’s helper in every aspect, perched on a kitchen stool, stirring pancake batter, scooping it onto the griddle. As usual, the kids barely touched their food because they were far more interested in playing with their new toys scattered around the living room than wasting too much time eating.
Patsy and I sipped our coffee in the living room and watched them happily play with their abundance of new toys. I gave Patsy a kiss and thanked her for making this another extraordinary and beautiful Christmas. “Oh, sweetie,” she said, snuggling against me in her cozy terry cloth robe, “you’re the one who makes it all possible, you know.”
Everything is for my family, I thought to myself. For this. This moment. This contentment. There is no treasure on earth that could weigh in with more value or worth than this, living in a home filled with love. If I could arrest time, it would be this moment. My children, my wife, and I on an early Christmas morning, the smells of pine and cinnamon and fried corned beef hash floating in the air, hundreds of sparkling lights on the Christmas tree, and jubilant children; candles, happy music, “Then how the reindeer loved him as they shouted out with glee…” The world at peace.
A perfect Christmas.
Our family wasn’t perfect by any means. Maybe we overdid Christmas. Maybe all the gifts were too much. JonBenét was the typical little sister to her big brother, Burke. Often an annoyance as he built his Lego projects. But this morning everything was as perfect as we could make it.
JonBenét couldn’t wait to try out her new bicycle. “Daddy, can I ride now? Now?” We threw on our jackets and off we went for her first expedition on a bicycle pedaling by herself around the block. I held on to the handle bar and seat as she pedaled, and you would have thought she was captain of the Enterprise. “Look at me, Daddy! Look at me!”
“You’re doing great, Johnnie Bee!”
She could have pedaled around the block all day. “Let’s go again, Daddy!”
“No, honey, not now. Maybe later.”
“Please, Daddy? Pretty please?”
“No, we don’t have time.”
So much to do before we were to take off the next morning for Michigan. Packing winter clothes for cold weather, as well as summer clothes for the Disney cruise. Gifts left to wrap for Melinda and John Andrew, more gifts to bring for neighbors, friends of the kids, as well as Melinda’s fiancé, Stewart, who would be spending his first Christmas with our family. Melinda had just finished nursing school and started her career as a neonatal intensive care nurse.
And we’d promised to attend dinner at our friends’ house a few blocks away. I lose my breath as I say these words. If this were a movie, the sound track would now become dissonant, ominous, deathly—foreshadowing disaster. We left our house. Did we leave a light on? I can’t remember.
We were gone a few hours. Just a few hours.
Enough time for someone to crawl through a broken basement window, select a hiding place, write a ransom note, and wait.
We walked out our door, merrily piled into the family car with our gifts and Christmas cookies, and—left our house.
We left our home.
No burglar alarm set, every window and door unchecked.
We drive to the home of our friends. We eat special Christmas treats, talk to relatives from California, enjoy our friends; the kids play and make Christmas crafts, and we leave around eight thirty in the evening; happy but tired now, having gotten up at the crack of dawn. We drop off gifts to more friends on the way home and drive down the decorated streets of Boulder, a town where most everyone owns a bicycle, a town surrounded by more than thirty-six thousand acres of recreational open space, conservation easements, and nature preserves. A seemingly idyllic town tucked neatly below the iconic rock formations of the Flatiron Mountains. A city of old hippies, successful businesspeople, philanthropists, trust fund babies, families, children, the University of Colorado, and world-class hiking trails, parks, and rock climbing. We drive along Baseline at the edge of the university campus to 15th Street, Patsy exclaiming how pretty the lights are. “Oh, John, I love Christmas!” Such a seemingly perfect city, where unknown to us, more than forty registered sex offenders live within five blocks of our house.
The kids are sleepy in the backseat. Patsy and I are tired, glad to get home early knowing we have to rise early in the morning to be at the Jefferson County airport for takeoff at 7 a.m.
JonBenét is sound asleep when I pull the car into the darkened alley behind our house and into the garage. The driveway is clean and dry. I am relieved as it bodes well for a fair-weather takeoff in the morning. It’s around 9 p.m.
I bundle JonBenét in my arms and carry her inside and upstairs to her room on the second floor. She is so light in my arms, her sturdy little legs in her boots bouncing over my arm. I lay her down on her bed and think to myself that one of these days she’ll be too big to carry—one of these days she’ll be all grown up, kids grow up so fast. I kiss her on the forehead, smooth her hair, and tiptoe out of the room. Patsy will come up in a few minutes and get her into her pajamas.
Burke plays downstairs in the living room by the Christmas tree. He’s trying to assemble a mechanical robot made of the Legos he got for Christmas, so I sit down on the floor to help him put it together, but it’s way too complicated for tonight.
“Son, it’s time for bed.”
“Do I have to go to bed?”
“Yes, buddy. Five-thirty will come mighty quick. Come on, I’ll tuck you in.”
Burke and I climb upstairs to his room, which is on the other side of the playroom from JonBenét’s room. I help get him ready for bed, tuck him under the covers, and give him a kiss on the forehead. “You’re a good son, Burke. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Dad.”
I feel good. My children are safe in their beds, the activities of the day are over, Patsy and I are exhausted, but once again it has been a Christmas to remember. I crawl into bed, adjust my favorite pillow, and promptly fall asleep.
A sound sleep I will forever regret.
It’s still dark when I roll out of bed the following morning and head for the shower. The morning winter air coming from our slightly cracked open bedroom window is crisp, clean. Outside the stars show through broken clouds, and grass, brittle and sullen, peeks through open patches in the snow; the city lies sleeping in the profile of the mountains and twinkling Christmas lights left on all night. Patsy had decorated every room in our house for Christmas, and outside had lined the walk with candy canes, and hung wreaths in the windows and on the six exterior doors on the first floor. Spectacular is a word you could use when describing any project Patsy set her hand to. Our house with its wreaths and centerpieces and candles and trinkets and trees and baubles and statues and crèches and lighted angels and Santas and reindeer and gingerbread sculptures was color coordinated, perfectly arranged and done with her elegant, and sometimes flamboyant, taste. People are impressed, but that’s not Patsy’s objective, to impress people. Her lively extroverted personality just happens to come through everything she does. I’m used to it. I know she can make an art out of just about anything.
Some people, however, are not always all that impressed with Patsy’s creative talents. In 1995, two thousand people went through our Christmas house, which Patsy had decorated to support a fund-raiser for the Boulder Historical Society. I stood outside wondering what to do with myself, when a woman emerged from our front door with a frown on her face.
“Well, how did you like it?” someone nearby asked her.
“It’s disgusting!” she exclaimed. Then to me, she said, “Have you ever seen such excess? It’s a disgrace!” and off she huffed.
“Excess?” Patsy marveled. “Maybe, but if people are going to pay money to see Christmas decorations, I’m going to give them their money’s worth!” And she did. For politically correct Boulder, I guess we overdid it.
But now it’s the morning after Christmas. I hear Patsy in her bathroom getting dressed. Then she’s down the stairs to put on the coffee, gather our things. We’ll wait to wake the kids until the last minute, taking them in the car in their PJs like we’ve done before so they can sleep on the plane.
A shriek. More like a howl. “John! Johhhn!”
I drop my razor, rush to the head of the stairs. “What is it?”
“JonBenét! JonBenét’s gone!”
“John, I found a note on the stairs! It’s a ransom note!” She screams, frantic. “John! There’s a note!”
She rushes to JonBenét’s room and through the playroom to Burke’s room and I follow. Burke is sleeping peacefully in his bed, but JonBenét is gone.
“Someone has taken JonBenét!” Patsy shrieks. I hurl myself down the spiral stairs to the back hallway, scoop up the three-page ransom note on the steps, and spread the sheets on the floor. I try and take in all three pages at once. I drop to my knees and read:
Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction. We respect your business but not the country that it serves. At this time we have your daughter in our possession. She is safe and unharmed and if you want her to see 1997, you must follow our instructions to the letter.
You will withdraw $118,000.00 from your account. $100,000 will be in $100 bills and the remaining $18,000 in $20 bills. Make sure that you bring an adequate size attaché to the bank. When you get home you will put the money in a brown paper bag. I will call you between 8 and 10 am tomorrow to instruct you on delivery. The delivery will be exhausting so I advise you to be rested. If we monitor you getting the money early, we might call you early to arrange an earlier delivery of the money and hence an earlier pick-up of your daughter.
Any deviation of my instructions will result in the immediate execution of your daughter. You will also be denied her remains for proper burial. The two gentlemen watching over your daughter do not particularly like you so I advise you not to provoke them. Speaking to anyone about your situation, such as Police, F.B.I., etc., will result in your daughter being beheaded. If we catch you talking to a stray dog, she dies. If you alert bank authorities, she dies. If the money is in any way marked or tampered with, she dies. You will be scanned for electronic devices and if any are found, she dies. You can try to deceive us but be warned that we are familiar with Law enforcement countermeasures and tactics. You stand a 99% chance of killing your daughter if you try to out smart us. Follow our instructions and you stand a 100% chance of getting her back. You and your family are under constant scrutiny as well as the authorities. Don’t try to grow a brain, John. You are not the only fat cat around so don’t think that killing will be difficult. Don’t underestimate us John. Use that good southern common sense of yours. It is up to you now John!
I kneel on the floor trying to absorb the meaning of the handwritten, three-page ransom note. I scream at Patsy to call 911 as she is standing by the phone. It’s a call that’s been recorded and played many times over the Internet and on radio and TV. She’s hysterical. She then calls our friends. “JonBenét’s missing! Please, Come quick!”
I feel like I’ve been slugged in the stomach, and my mind is spinning. I’ve got to get our baby back. Got to get her back. Get her back. I try to think how I can get the money the kidnappers demanded in the note. I’m still in my underwear. I hurry upstairs to put some clothes on, and run back downstairs. Patsy rushes to check on Burke and he is still asleep. A lone policeman pulls up in front of our house, and I meet the uniformed officer in the front hallway. “Do you think she could have just run away?” he asks. I scoff, “No, she’s only six years old.” Our friends begin to arrive.
The officer reads the ransom note, asks more questions, and sequesters us in the sunroom. Our baby girl—kidnapped. We become concerned for Burke. He shouldn’t wake up to all this confusion. We wake him and explain that JonBenét is missing and he’ll be going to his friend’s house for a little while.
“Will she come back?”
“Of course. Yes. We’ll find her.”
“And then we’ll go on the plane?”
“Yes, then we’ll go on the plane.” He leaves with tears in his eyes and his new Nintendo 64 game under his arm. I want to run after him, hold him in my arms, not let him out of my sight.
Our priest from St. John’s Episcopal Church, Rol Hoverstock, comes through the front door. An hour or so later a female detective arrives. The detective tells Patsy that kidnappers sometimes chicken out—drop the child off along the road or in a parking lot—so she should take heart. I’m searching for how someone got into our house. Which door? Which window? I call my banker in Atlanta to arrange for the ransom money. More squad cars arrive with police and phone monitoring equipment, and two women from the Boulder Police Department Victim’s Advocate Unit. I call my copilot and ask him to try and contact Melinda and John Andrew, who are on a flight from Atlanta to Minneapolis. Our original plan was to rendezvous in Minneapolis and then go on to Charlevoix together in my plane. My banker calls, rankling the police because we’re waiting for the kidnappers to call. My banker tells me they increased my Visa Card credit line so I could withdraw the $118,000 ransom money quickly. I can get the money as a cash advance.
Thank God. Now to wait for their call.
Call, you monsters, you inhuman beasts!
I remember last summer when I got locked out of the house; I broke a pane in a basement window, reached in and pulled open the latch, and was able to climb inside. Patsy had asked our cleaning lady’s husband to fix that window. Had it been fixed? I rush downstairs to check.
The pane is still broken.
The window stands wide open.
A big old Samsonite suitcase is set beneath the window. Who put that there? The suitcase is like a stool to climb up and crawl out the window.
Where are you, JonBenét? Be brave, Johnnie Bee—We’ll find you!
I rush up the stairs. I tell one of the policemen about the window. I can barely form the words. I’m sick to my stomach. I have to keep my wits about me. Patsy is in shock. She sits rocking and moaning, a mixing bowl between her knees as the urge to vomit is close. She’s praying and clinging to a wooden cross that she had fashioned as part of the Christmas decorations in the sunroom. There’s much turmoil. People milling about, talking, police coming and going. I tell myself, Keep focused, John. JonBenét is depending on you now more than ever. You’ve got to stay strong. You’ve got to get your baby back.
Where’s the FBI? Shouldn’t they be here by now? We need more help. Didn’t the lady detective tell me they’re on the way? Where are they? And what about that strange car across the street?
I don’t realize that standard procedure when a child is missing is that the police do a thorough search of the entire house first in the event the child is playing, or hiding, or has fallen asleep somewhere other than her room. The police do not make that search.
They give me instructions for speaking with the kidnappers on the telephone. “Ask to talk to JonBenét. You must insist on hearing her voice.”
“Okay, okay.” I’m numb. My stomach is caved and knotted.
“Keep them on the line as long as you can. That’s critical.”
“Okay.” The most important phone call of my life. I’m not sure I can do it right, but I must. “Okay.”
Every time the phone rings, I jump. Patsy is on her knees clinging to the cross, moaning. One caller hangs up without saying anything. Was that the kidnapper?
I go into the kitchen, where a couple of officers are drinking coffee. Someone’s making sandwiches. I stand staring out the kitchen window at our backyard, the empty trees dormant in the winter wind, the scrappy patches of browned grass dead and silent, Patsy’s flower gardens now barren as though shrunken back into the bleakness of the earth. The children’s slide and swing set look tired and abandoned. Our backyard we had so lovingly landscaped with colorful flowers, trees, and grass stares back at me with a hostile, frozen expression, as though announcing we will never smile again.
This is no longer winter’s artistry. It’s a world gone mad.
My body aches; my heart pounds so hard I can hear it. I try to breathe deep, but the air cobbles in my throat like flannel, and I don’t feel like I can get enough air. A wave of fear overtakes me as I think of the possible reality that we won’t get JonBenét back soon enough. The view from the window grows clouded, and a thick layer of gray film moves across the kitchen to the stainless steel sink, the Mexican tile countertops, Patsy’s rooster paintings and collection of ceramic pitchers, the tile flooring. Tears sting my eyes. Where is my little girl?
My mind screams with one image alone, that my baby is out there unprotected and alone somewhere. It is cold. But she is strong. She knows I will find her. JonBenét, JonBenét, JonBenét. Police in uniforms with their leathery smells and dispassionate faces have invaded my house. I have to do something. I can’t just wait. I have to do everything and anything I can to get my child back.
Someone has taken our child.
Can’t anyone understand? Why isn’t the entire town looking for my child, knocking down doors, shining high-powered spotlights into dark places? Why aren’t they sending out bloodhounds, searching houses and back alleys, setting up roadblocks on the interstate?—MY GOD, OUR CHILD HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED!!!
The morning passes, grueling moment by moment.
No call from the kidnappers.
He’s laughing at us. Somewhere right now the kidnapper is laughing at us.
Are there more than one? The ransom note says “we.”
I look through the mail waiting on the floor beneath the mail slot in the front door, hoping there might be another communication from the kidnappers. Nothing but bills and Christmas cards. We are now almost insane with tension.
We’re questioned for names of people we think might do this thing. Patsy remembers her cleaning lady telling her mother, “JonBenét is so pretty, aren’t you afraid that someone might kidnap her?” Suddenly everyone seems suspicious. The minutes go by and we’re getting desperate. I can smell the coffee brewing in the kitchen. Someone is preparing more food. I don’t realize that everyone should have been made to stay in one particular area to keep us from contaminating potential evidence. Crime scene technicians are dusting for fingerprints. People are wandering all over the house.
Where is the FBI? Where are more police?
Patsy is surrounded by friends. Thank God. They’re taking care of her. I’m trying to stay sane, trying to think logically. What to do. What to do. I must DO something.
Still no phone call.
The female detective asks me to take someone with me and go through the entire house to see if anything is unusual or out of place. Okay, sure. We decide to work from the bottom up since the third floor has no access to the outside. “Right. Basement first,” and we head down the stairs. My legs are trembling and I stumble on the stair. I regain my balance. I head down the basement stairs and into the room where Burke’s electric train is set up. I show my friend the broken window, which is still open, the small splinters of glass on the floor and on the suitcase. “This isn’t right. The suitcase shouldn’t be here.” Did the kidnapper take my child out the basement window? My friend didn’t tell me he had already noted the open window when he was down here earlier. I’m feeling dizzy.
Try to stay calm. Try to breathe. My friend says something but I can’t hear him. I must find some clue to help me get my child back. We’re supposed to be celebrating Christmas. We’re supposed to be on our way to Michigan. This is our vacation, our family time!
I move down the hall to the door by the old steam boiler. I twist the latch and pull the door open. In the darkness I make out something there on the floor, a form. A white blanket, what—what—? I fumble to flip the light on. Little arms tied over her head. JonBenét! I’ve found her! My child, lying on the floor with a blanket over her. Thank God, I’ve found her. But her hands are bound together by a cord and there’s black duct tape across her mouth. I don’t see the garrote around her neck because it’s so deeply embedded in her skin. I throw myself down on the floor over her body, and quickly pull the tape off her mouth. “Honey, it’s okay. I’m here now. Daddy’s here. Please say something, JonBenét!” Her face has a sweet look of peace, her eyes are closed, her skin cool. I felt a rush of relief and terror at the same time.
I try to untie her hands but I can’t. The knot is too complicated. “JonBenét!” I hysterically pray she is just unconscious.
I lift my little girl up from beneath her arms. Her body is stiff and cool. The last time I carried her she was sound asleep, her warm breath on my neck. I scream like a madman. I can’t form words. I can only scream. Scream and scream.
I carry my baby up the basement stairs, rush into the living room with her, and lay her down on the rug in front of the Christmas tree. I’ve got to wake her up. Keep her breathing! Help, someone! Call an ambulance!
I hug my child’s stiff body. I kiss her chilled cheeks. Do something! Somebody do something!
Patsy’s friends are trying to hold her back from seeing JonBenét like this, but she fights her way through them screaming. She rushes for her child, falls on her body shrieking.
The female detective feels for a pulse and looks me in the eyes and says, “She’s dead.”
My heart stops.
Father Rol starts to pray. He’s praying the Episcopal Last Rites.
Patsy sobs, “Pray to raise her from the dead! Like Lazarus! Pray to raise her!”
Father Rol reaches for Patsy, puts his arms around her to comfort her. I can’t move. He’s praying the Lord’s Prayer.
My body feels like it’s cast in stone. I can’t breathe. Patsy, Patsy, our baby is gone.
Messages from Heaven
Oh, that my grief were fully weighed,
And my calamity laid with it on the scales!
For then it would be heavier than the sand
of the sea—
The coroner’s autopsy disclosed that not only had JonBenét been strangled, but her skull had been fractured by an enormous blow, which had gone unnoticed at first. The garrote around her neck had strangled her, and so when given the blow to the head, she was already dead and didn’t bleed. Officially, her death was caused by asphyxia due to strangulation associated with massive head trauma.
We could not bear to hear these details and refused to read the report. We still couldn’t grasp that our little girl had been murdered. That’s the dreadful news you read about in the papers or hear on the nightly news of other people’s children—certainly not your own.
When they pronounced our child dead, Patsy’s shrieks were so horrible they surely had to be heard and recorded in Heaven and earth’s archives of parental anguish. Her daughter lay murdered on the floor before the Christmas tree she had gazed at with anticipation just the day before. Patsy has lost her only daughter. Our baby. Our joy and our delight.
The Boulder police ushered us out of our home. Agonized and in shock, we didn’t know what to do or where to go. My children from my first marriage, John Andrew and Melinda, had quickly boarded a flight from Minneapolis to Denver when they found out what was happening. They arrived in a taxicab just as we were being escorted out of our house. I hugged them and then had to tell them that their little sister, JonBenét, was gone.
Friends offered to take us in, and the police descended on their house soon after we arrived. I thought they were there to protect us. I realized later they were probably there to observe us. The next day people started to arrive: my brother, Jeff; Patsy’s sister Pam; and friends from Atlanta, the city we had always considered our hometown. We were surrounded by family and friends, all of us stunned and desolate. Patsy was senseless in shock. When I tried to speak to her, hold her, she collapsed against me, unable to lift her body up, producing horrible guttural moans like a woman in labor. “Who would do this? Why? Who would do this to my baby?”
Patsy’s friends steadied her to keep her from collapsing to the floor, and then helped her onto a bed. We left our home without so much as a toothbrush or a comb. Our physician was called and he prescribed medication for us. My host poured Scotch, but no medication or drink could take away the horror of what happened to our JonBenét.
The police remained with us, watching us, questioning our friends and family. There was no way to sleep and no way to stay alert.
Days went by and Patsy’s sister Pam suggested she drive over to our house on University Hill and pack up some clothes and necessary items for us. It took a while to get permission, but the police finally gave their consent for her to gather some of our things, but only under their watchful eye. Pam drove to our darkened house on 15th Street, a house we would never again step foot into. Along the sidewalk were the tokens of sympathy from the people of Boulder: bouquets of flowers, teddy bears, little angels, cards, and placards, “We will miss you, JonBenét.” Yellow police tape had been draped across the lawn, Patsy’s red-and-white-striped candy canes were still planted along each side of the entry walk, paper bag luminaries sat on the brown grass, and a toy Santa in his sleigh lay tipped over on its side as though in mourning. Christmas wreaths still decorated the windows and doors.
Pam entered the single solid oak front door, passed through the foyer, the hallway, and past our now desolate Christmas tree. She climbed the front stairs to our bedroom on the third floor and stood staring at the darkened, empty room, the bed still unmade. Shouldn’t they still be there somewhere? Shouldn’t Patsy be just over there in her bathroom brushing her teeth maybe? And John putting on his jacket making plans for the day? She could feel our presence in the room that we had lovingly remodeled and created as our own little haven, and she felt nauseous. This is a nightmare. I’m dreaming. This can’t be real. Under the glare of a Boulder police officer, she began gathering clothes from our closets. Shirts, jackets, pants, underwear, Patsy’s hair dryer, my electric razor. What else? Patsy’s favorite earrings? Her wedding pictures? My God, what to pack? In a wildfire, what do you grab before the flames engulf your house? The officer seemed impatient and made a comment about parents who murder their children. What did he mean by that?
Shaking, she headed down the stairs to the second floor. The children’s floor. First, Burke’s room. She wanted to take down the model airplane hanging from his ceiling, but the officer stopped her, ordering her to hurry up and take only what was necessary. Burke’s jeans, tennis shoes, shirts, what about his toys? His Christmas presents? Oh God, she must be dreaming. Sweet little Burke, how was he taking all this? His mittens, his model airplanes, his basketball. His comfy boy’s room he’d never see again. But wait, there was one more room she had to visit. She left Burke’s room and walked through the playroom with the cabinets of toys, the big beanbag chair, JonBenét’s trunk of costumes and dress-up clothes. Burke’s collection of trucks and airplanes was there just like always. Pam wanted to stay in the playroom, wait for Burke and JonBenét to come running in, pull out a book to read to them, Dr. Seuss maybe, but with the police officer behind her, she kept moving, through the hall, past the upstairs laundry area, toward John Andrew’s room. She made an abrupt stop at JonBenét’s door. She pushed back a sob as she peered inside at the sight of the Christmas tree decorated with dozens of sparkling angels and snowflakes, and then quickly stepped under the police tape into the room. Johnnie Bee’s Christmas room, my God, look at this display of love Patsy invested in these kids. Burke’s room is all boy, blue, red, and white and filled with boy stuff—but this room, this room is the domain of a fairy princess. She brushed her hand across JonBenét’s bedpost, her only niece’s twin bed, the peach-colored sheets still rumpled from where she had been taken. Here were her dolls, her toys, her shelves of picture books and Bible stories, the hand-carved corner hutch with her decorated bicycle contest blue ribbon from last summer and other pageant awards. Here were the lovely paisley drapes Patsy had specially selected so they’d be just right for the room. Here were the doors to her balcony, where JonBenét could play Juliet or Rapunzel, or carry all her dolls and stuffed animals outside to perform for them. Pam could see her little niece playing on the soft carpet with her dolls, happily chattering all the voices for each one, her little pink sneakers with the pom-pom laces kicked to the corner, the dollhouse and its tiny figures spread out. She could feel JonBenét’s presence, her exuberance. The closet door ajar, her clothes and toys lying in disarray inside, a tap shoe lying upside down as though just tossed from a little foot after a rehearsal. Pam bent to pick it up when a policeman barked at her not to touch. She started to leave the room but felt compelled to take a small medal about the size of a silver dollar from a shelf of JonBenét’s trophies.
She returned to the house where we were staying, and opened her palm to show me the medal. “I don’t know why, John, but I just had a strong impression I was supposed to bring this medal to you.” I saw the medal and began to sob uncontrollably. Of all the mementos Pam could have chosen to give me, she chose the one most precious of all to me. Pam couldn’t have known it, but it was the medal JonBenét had wanted me, her dad, to have. The one she placed around my neck and said, “This is for you, Daddy. I won it for you.”
That was five days before Christmas.
It was as if JonBenét were speaking to me from Heaven and telling me, “Daddy, I’m all right. Here, this is for you. Remember? I won it for you.” I knew it was a gift from God to a broken father.
I wore this priceless medal around my neck twenty-four hours a day for a year until the eyelet on top wore through and the ribbon frayed to threads. I carry it in my wallet to this day. It reminds me, “Daddy, I’m all right.” Our JonBenét is with God in Heaven and she’s all right. If I doubt that, all I have to do is pull the small medal out and hold it in my hand. She’s with God in Heaven and she’s all right.
It’s years later now, and I’ve come to a place where small things are significant to me. For so many years of my life it was the big things that counted: houses, cars, boats, planes. Patsy loved to host dinner parties; the more people, the merrier.
In those high-flying days I never dreamed that one day I would downsize to the point of selling most of the treasures we owned, and that I would be calling a boat my home. I never dreamed, with a master’s degree and many years as a successful businessman with seven hundred employees, that I’d wind up jobless.
An ideal Christmas, that Christmas of 1996.
I wandered around the home of our gracious friends in the wee hours in stocking feet. I came across their cache of Christmas cards on the mantel in their family room. Happy, loving wishes from so many people. I spotted our Christmas letter, the one Patsy had composed early in December. She had labored at it, wondering what to leave out. So much good in our lives to report. My heart beat in my ears as I read:
Dear Friends and Family,
It’s been another busy year at the Ramsey household. Can’t believe it’s almost over and time to start again!
Melinda has graduated from the Medical College of Georgia and is working in Pediatrics ICU at Kennestone Hospital in Atlanta. John Andrew (2nd) is a sophomore at the University of Colorado.
Burke is a busy fourth grader where he really shines in math and spelling. He played flag football this fall and is currently on a basketball binge! His little league team was #1. He’s lost just about all of his baby teeth, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing the orthodontist in 1997!
JonBenét is enjoying her first year in “real school.” Kindergarten in the Core Knowledge program is fast paced and five full days a week. She has already been moved ahead to first grade math. She continues to enjoy participating in talent and modeling pageants. She was named “America’s Royale Tiny Miss” last summer and is Colorado’s Little Miss Christmas. Her teacher says she is so outgoing that she will never have trouble delivering an oral book report!
John is always on the go traveling hither and yon. Access recently celebrated its one billion $$ mark in sales, so he’s pretty happy! He and his crew were underway in the Port Huron to Mackinac Island yacht race in July, but had to pull out midway due to lack of wind. (Can you believe that?) But, his real love is the new “old looking” boat, Grand Season, which he spent months designing.
I spend most of my “free time” working at the school and doing volunteer work. The Charlevoix house was on the home tour in July and will likely appear in one of the Better Homes and Gardens publications in 1997. On a recent trip to NYC, my friend and I appeared amid the throng of fans on the TODAY show. Al Roker and Bryant actually talked to us and we were on camera for a few fleeting moments!
We are all enjoying continued good health and look forward to seeing you in 1997! One final note…thank you to all my “friends” and my dear husband for surprising me with the biggest, most outrageous 40th birthday bash I’ve ever had! We’ll be spending my actual birthday on the Disney Big Red Boat over the New Year!
Merry Christmas and much love,
The madness had just begun. The day after the murder of our child, Patsy and I sat frozen in grief surrounded by friends and family, Patsy nearly comatose, unable to stand up or feed herself. Our host approached me where I sat slumped on the sofa staring at the floor.
“There’s someone on the phone, John, from your office. He says it’s important. Do you want to take it?”
I recognized the name.
Excerpted from The Other Side of Suffering by Ramsey, John Copyright © 2012 by Ramsey, John. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
John Bennet Ramsey was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1943. He attended Michigan State University and graduated with a Masters Degree. In 2009, he completed discipleship training at YWAM's University of the Nations. The suffering in his life has given Ramsey a unique platform to speak to other suffering people, offering them encouragement and hope. He now considers this his calling and a way to serve God. Ramsey is the proud father of his surviving children Melinda, John Andrew, and Burke.
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