MARJORIE, 57, of Baltimore, Maryland, USA, will never forget the terrible night in 1983 when her 15-year-old son Anthony was murdered in their home. After it happened, her Christian faith was rocked and she stopped going to church. Here she describes how her faith (and that of her two sisters) has now come alive again in an extraordinary way...
Our mother made us go to church as children. We were taught that it was our duty to go and that we had to do what God wanted in order to gain God’s love. Dad never came. He was a police officer and always seemed to be out taking care of other people instead of being home. Then, when he was at home, he was very abusive and ordered us around a lot. Mother was the nucleus of our family and kept us together. She used to say, "We all have crosses to bear and he’s our cross." She protected us if our father got out of hand. I was one of four sisters and we have always been close. We always took refuge in each other’s rooms when we were hurting. Jean was the first to marry, then Elaine, then Anne and finally me. We all continued to go to church after we married. I married a man from Pennsylvania named Jim. He was in the navy and we met at the local bowling alley when I accidentally threw the ball at his lane.
We were married in 1962 and had four children three boys and a girl. I stayed at home to look after the children and, in around 1981, when they were all teenagers, I decided to go into foster care. I went through a vigorous investigation from the police department, the fire department and the health department. The only condition I gave them at the time was that I didn’t want any children who had experienced drug problems because I was afraid that they might hurt my family. In the following few years, I took about 10 children in some for only a month or two and others for a year or more. One girl stayed with me for two years.
By 1983, I had just one boy called Gregory living with us. He was 16 and had been living with us for seven months. At that time, our other children were aged 18, 17, 15 and 10. One weekend during that year, we went to Pennsylvania to see our relatives. When we got home, Anthony and Gregory wanted to go out to a party at a house nearby, while Thomas was going bowling with a friend. By that time, Timmy had left home and gone to join the Navy. Anthony and Gregory walked to their party, which was about a mile away I guess. They got home a few hours later and that was when I noticed that Anthony seemed a little unsteady on his feet. I said, "Have you been drinking?". And he said, "Yes". I followed him upstairs and said to the two of them, "You guys have been drinking. We will not deal with that tonight. We’ll talk about it in the morning, when I’ve had more time to think this through." So I went downstairs and sat down on the couch. I must have dozed off for about 15 minutes when I heard the sound of running upstairs and then the noise of what sounded like fighting. So I ran upstairs and all of a sudden I saw my son lying on the floor at the top. Gregory was standing over him and said, "Tony has cut his own throat." I knew at once that he was lying. I looked down and saw Anthony lying there with his throat wide open. So I started screaming and screaming and screaming for my husband to wake up. Then I ran downstairs and grabbed a cloth and put it to my son’s throat. I kept on screaming and finally my husband appeared and said, "What the hell is going on?" I said, "Tony’s injured. His throat is cut." He said, "My God, what has happened?" He ran upstairs and I went to the phone to call for an ambulance. I dialed 911 and was screaming into the phone telling them to hurry up. As I dialed, Greg ran down the stairs and into my bedroom, which was on the lower floor. Minutes later, I heard this, ‘KAPOW’. Greg had found the key of our gun cabinet, got the shells out of a drawer, put them in a double-barreled shotgun, and shot half his face off. I dropped the phone, ran into the bedroom and saw Greg lying on the floor, crawling to my bed, with blood everywhere. He grabbed my pillow and covered his shattered face with it. I immediately ran back to the phone and said, "Send two ambulances".
When the police arrived, I was in the bedroom with Greg telling him, "Greg, hold on, hold on. They are coming to help you". Then I ran back upstairs and took Tony in my arms. I rubbed his back and said, "It’s all right, darling. Mother’s here. Don’t worry. Nothing is going to happen to you." I knew he was dying. When the ambulance people arrived, I went down to meet them. They were shouting, "Who’s hurt? Who’s hurt?"
I said "Upstairs" to one and "In the back room" to another. So one ran upstairs and one went through the back to my bedroom. Within minutes, the one in the bedroom ran out to get some equipment sent in to him. At the same time, the ambulance man upstairs said, "There is nothing I can do about this one up here." Tony was dead. They put Greg on a stretcher and took him away in an ambulance, but they left Tony lying upstairs.
Then the police detectives separated our family. My husband was put in the kitchen, my daughter was in her bedroom downstairs and I stayed with her. As they started questioning us, our son Tommy arrived home from the bowling alley and tried to get into the house. He saw all the policemen and fire engines and ambulances, with neighbors standing around, but the police would not let him come into the house because they said it was the scene of a crime. I said, "He’s my son," but the police detective said, "I don’t care who he is, he’s got to stay out of here. If he comes in, I will arrest him." I said, "How can you do that? He’s my son. It’s his brother that was killed." Tommy said, "Who is it?" I said, "It’s Tony. He’s dead." At that Tommy backed off and I said "Tommy back off. I’ll be with you in a little bit." After that, he ran around the house and sneaked in through the back way to the kitchen where my husband was sitting in the kitchen. He sat down with his Dad, who explained everything to him. But they wouldn’t allow us all to be together until after they had questioned us. We were treated as if we had done it because that was the first thing they thought of. They just didn’t know what had happened. I was with my daughter but I kept having to go to the ladies’ room because I was so sick. I was vomiting and had diarrhea because of the shock. They asked us questions and afterwards I said "I want a priest, I want a priest. Bring a priest". They called directory and got a priest from Our Lady of Hope, a Catholic church nearby (not the one we attended) and he came and stayed with us while the men were preparing to take Tony’s body out. I heard the body bag being brought down and saw them taking Tony out. I was in a terrible state of shock at that point. The priest started praying and I thought that I was going to lose it mentally. All I could do was pray the ‘Our Father’, the ‘Hail Mary’ and the ‘Glory be to the Father’. I kept praying them over and over and over, terribly fast, with the priest trying to keep up with me. After a while I suddenly stopped and felt I was coming back to reality. It was now the wee hours of the morning, but I called my sister Anne on the phone and the police interrupted our conversation because they were monitoring all our calls. They wouldn’t let me tell her what was wrong, but I said, "I’ve got to talk to you." She knew something horrible had happened. I said, "I can’t explain to you. I just need a place to stay". My husband and the two children packed a few things and we went to Anne’s house. She opened the front door and was counting everybody’s heads and said, "Where’s Tony? Where’s Greg?" That was when I told her what had happened. Apparently I kept looking at my hands, saying, "I need a shower. There’s blood on my hands." But there wasn’t any blood at that stage because I had washed myself before leaving the house. But I was just so distraught that I went into shut-down. The hardest thing was telling the various members of my family what had happened. I had to tell my mother, who lived alone, and that was hard. Then we had real trouble getting in touch with Timmy, who was on furlough at the time. Eventually the Red Cross tracked him down a day and a half later.
The funeral home wanted to start an autopsy and everything, but I said, "I don’t want to make any of these plans until we contact our son." Then we heard that he had been told and that he was coming home. He knew his brother was dead, but he didn’t know any more, and telling him the circumstances was hard too. It tore me apart. My husband was shut down too. He tried to keep things going, but we each stayed by ourselves and dealt with it in our own way. He thought about getting a contract out with someone to kill Gregory. A couple of men came to the door soon after the incident and said, "Look, for this much money we can arrange for him to be killed." But I said to my husband, "Jim, two wrongs don’t make a right. Let it go. God will take care of it. Let the courts handle him." I still had enough faith in me at that stage to keep him from doing wrong.
So he dropped the whole idea. He started drinking quite a lot in the saloon on the way home from work, though, and we might well have ended up divorced. We were living with my mom and he came home several times drunk. I could only say, "Jim, please don’t do this to me. I need you, I need your help." After a while, I said, "Would you do me a favor?" And he said, "What?" I said "I’m not going to ask you to give up your drinking but what I’m asking you to do for me is go to therapy with me." He agreed to come to therapy and often he would come drunk. In the end, in around 1985, I had just had enough. I just couldn’t take the pain any more and I was going to get a lawyer and file for a divorce. When I told my therapist, she said, "Hold on, hold on. Let me work at this." So she got a friend of hers and they sat Jim down and told him. He knew he had a problem and agreed to go into rehab.
He went there for 30 days and he hasn’t drunk since. After he sobered up, he was altogether different. In the meantime, Gregory was charged with murder. He was 16 and still in the juvenile system so everything about him was kept very hushed up. We didn’t know anything for two years.
When he left our house, he was taken in the ambulance to hospital in the University of Maryland, where he survived and had prosthesis put in his jaw. It was two years before I discovered that Gregory had been on drugs that night. He had bought some drugs marijuana, PCP with his birthday money and taken them to the party. Tony had drunk some beer, but did not take any drugs. I always knew that Greg would have had to flip out to do a heinous crime like that. Something was clearly wrong for him to do something like that. For all this time I wanted him to suffer and to live with his mistake for the rest of his life. I didn’t actually hate him because I still had that love in me for him, but my anger was intense. I just wanted him to be accountable for his mistakes and be punished. When the state’s attorney gentleman asked my husband and me "Do you want him to have the death penalty?", my husband and I looked at each other and I said "Well I don’t". And he says "Well I don’t either." He added, "We just want him to be punished". In the end he was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment, with the possibility of probation at some later stage. After that, we took the State of Baltimore County to court in a separate court case because they were in charge of the juvenile system and they had never told us that Greg had a drugs background. Our argument was that if, as foster parents, we had been informed of his drug history, we could have prevented having our son murdered. We ended up winning the case and receiving a settlement, but it all left us with nothing but emptiness. It left us losing faith in a lot of things, even God. For about two or three years I stopped going to church altogether. It was like living in a dark tunnel that had no light. It was so depressing. My sisters Anne and Jean stopped going too and my sister Elaine only went to take my mother along each Sunday. We just felt so distant from God and we were all having therapy.
After a few years, I drifted back to church occasionally, but I couldn’t talk to God. I felt estranged from him. Instead of praying, I would sit in church and just talk to my son Tony. I couldn’t even say the ‘Our Father’ because it stuck in my throat. I felt God had let me down and betrayed me. I only went to church at all because of a kind of sense of duty. I thought I might otherwise be condemned to hell for ever.
In 1996, Greg had served 12 years in prison and he was released. I wrote letters and asked them to keep him in longer, but they said that he had gone through the system and passed with flying colors and would be released.
One day in 1997, I read about a ‘healing service’ at the church, St Clare’s Catholic Church, which was coming up the following week. I was very depressed and I remember saying to myself, "I can’t live this way any more. I’ve got to go". So I went to the healing service and there were lay ministers there sitting in chairs who said "If you have any kind of health problem and you want to be healed do come and ask one of us to pray for you." I looked around and I didn’t really trust anybody there. Then I saw a man who I knew vaguely from church and I went over to him. He looked at me and said, "How can I pray for you? What is it you want?" And I said, "I want healing". As I sat on a chair, he started praying over me. He laid his hands on my head and at once I felt this immense energy that came through me. It was like a beacon of light shining through my whole being. Suddenly I found myself crying and crying. Then I raised my arms to God and saying a prayer out loud: "Forgive me my Lord. Take me into your heart and forgive me for what I have done." I kept saying, "Please forgive me, please forgive me." And as I sat there, God just came into my soul to forgive me and to give me light and no more darkness. I could feel the power going through my hands and down my arms and into my whole being.
After that I started going regularly to church on Sundays and it was then that I noticed an advertisement for this course called Alpha in the church bulletin. It said it was an introduction to Christianity and I said to myself, ‘Well, I’ll give it a shot. What the heck?’ It was held on a Tuesday evening and I guess there were maybe 35 to 40 people there. I walked in expecting that it would be quite intense, but I just felt myself surrounded by all this love. As soon as I arrived, the Alpha team leader, Vicky, came up to me and said, "Welcome." I enjoyed the evening and went back the following week. After that session, I said to myself, "Gee this is pretty good. I’m getting better, I’m feeling better." Everyone was just so friendly. As Alpha went on, the more everything made sense to me. At my Catholic school they used to teach Bible scriptures and stuff like that but I never really understood why God did what he did. I knew that we had a Bible but reading the gospels and the epistles every Sunday was as far as we got. Now myself was involving me deeper and deeper in the Bible and reading it. The other significant thing was that there was a session, which covered the importance of forgiveness and I felt God saying that I needed to forgive Greg if I was to receive everything that God wanted to give me. This was something that worked on my mind for weeks and months, days and nights, until finally I said to myself, "I have to do this." So I forgave Greg in my heart and then prayed to God to forgive me for holding that hatred of Greg for so long. It was a very big thing for me to do, but I felt so much better afterwards. When the Alpha course ended, I said to my sisters, "This is an amazing course. You must go on it."
In the middle of 1998, our mother was taken very ill with cancer and was in hospital. Anne, Jean and I were in the waiting room at the hospital when we saw an ambulance driver walk through the room to pick up a patient to take him home. I looked at the man and recognized him. He had a big beard to cover his scars, but I recognized his eyes. I turned to my sisters and said, "I think I saw Greg". I hadn’t seen him since the day of the murder. Anne said, "Are you sure?". Then Jean said to Anne, "I’m going to find out if that was Greg". She said, "Go ahead Jean". So Jean went and found the man and said, "Excuse me, but you look awfully familiar. Would your name be Greg?". And he said, "Yes"." And she said, "Well thank you", and she turned on her heels and walked straight back to our waiting room. She said, "You are right, Marge. You’re right". At that, Anne said, "Let me at him!" She was ready to tear him apart, but we held her back and blocked the doorway. She said, "How can you be so calm?" And I replied, "I have forgiven him. I have not forgotten what he has done, but I have had to forgive him". At that, she got very angry with me and said, "I can’t believe you said that." In the end she just walked away. She couldn’t deal with it. We didn’t see Greg again after that. He clearly knew who we were and he decided to keep away.
Soon afterwards, our mother died of cancer and Elaine was really quite keen to go on an Alpha course, so we did the course together and she became closer and closer to Jesus as the course went on too. At the end of the course, the two of us held each other and prayed to the Lord and said, "Now we have to work on our other sisters". We prayed and told God how desperately we wanted to get our other sisters, Anne and Jean, into the faith. We would never have done that before Alpha, but the course had brought a more deepened faith. We now knew that God was alive.
Meanwhile, Anne had seen the change in Elaine and me and particularly noticed how we so often had smiles on our faces. She thought, "How can they be so happy?" And I kept saying to her, "Anne I’ve found my faith. Why don’t you come on an Alpha course?" To start with, she said, "No, no," but then in February 2000, she agreed to do the course. On the first night, she arrived too late for the meal and then sat in the back row.
But she kept coming back and clearly enjoyed it more and more. Then, on the weekend retreat, she went up for prayer and as they prayed for her, she cried. It was clearly the Holy Spirit because she kept on talking about it, saying, "This feeling is so new to me. I’m just so happy. I don’t feel all that guilt any more." And she gave her life to Jesus that day. Some time afterwards, she forgave Greg for herself and we all started praying for him. We haven’t seen him since that day in the hospital, but we pray for him. Now we are all three involved with ministry at St Clare’s and our lives have changed around completely. For me, I feel that my total healing came the day I forgave Greg. I completely came out of my shell that day and things have been different ever since. Suddenly, I wasn’t in that dark tunnel any more. Before doing the Alpha course, Jesus seemed to be distant from me and I wouldn’t let him close. But now he is my whole being. He makes it worth opening my eyes in the morning.
If you still have questions or need more information, please contact ChristLife, the North American headquarters for Alpha for Catholics.
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