Rebecca DeMauro (USA)

“I knew that if something didn’t change I would be in the graveyard, dead from a broken heart, next to my little daughter.”

Photography by Johnny Rozsa

In 1999 Rebecca DeMauro’s 12-year-old daughter, Andria, was murdered in Arkansas. Devastated and broken by the event, it was only when she chanced to watch the trial of the Green River Killer on TV that her feelings of loathing and vengeance shifted.

On 15th May 1999, my life changed forever when my beautiful 12 year-old daughter, Andria ‘Andi’ Nichole Brewer, was kidnapped from her father’s rural Arkansas home. After a three-day statewide search for her – a search that included hundreds of volunteers, state, local, and federal law enforcement – her abductor confessed to the FBI that he had taken Andi.

He had waited for her father to leave the house. He went to the door, told her that her grandparents were ill and that she needed to leave with him. He then drove her ten miles away to the town of Cove, then down an old logging road where he raped and strangled her. We learned from his confession that she fought him and begged for her life. She promised not to tell that he had raped her if only he would take her home

He didn’t. He strangled her to death.

After he murdered her he pulled her 400 yards into the woods and covered her small naked body with scrub-brush. Then he threw her clothing into the Buffalo River. He, Karl Roberts, was a relative of ours by marriage. So none of us found it odd when he helped us search for Andi for the three days she was missing.

When we finally learned what had happened to Andi, I wanted to die with her. There is no way to explain the loss of a child, other than to say that dying by slow torture would be better. I have never experienced such great pain emotionally or physically. Unless you have lost a child there is no way for me to explain it in a way you would understand.

There was a little relief when Karl Roberts was found guilty of first degree capital murder and given the death penalty. For a time that seemed to pacify my rage and hate for him, but soon enough he began to consume my thoughts again. I hated him. I wanted to blow his brains out. I wanted him to suffer long and slow. I even gave him a nickname, ‘Spawn of Satan’, and prayed to God that he was being raped and tortured in prison.

Hate and unforgiveness consumed me. My thoughts were focused only on ways that I could kill Karl Roberts myself.

Then one morning I was watching Katie Couric on NBC when the story of Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, was broadcast. Ridgway was sentenced for the murders of 48 women, making him the most prolific serial killer in US history. He was to receive 48 consecutive life terms for the murders of the women he killed. I watched with great interest as the victims’ families were each allotted ten minutes to give a victim impact statement.

NBC showed clips from several statements: ‘I hope you rot in hell, you son of a bitch’, and ‘you are not God. It was not your right to decide who lived and who died’. Ridgway sat stoic and hard, his eyes narrowed, seemingly full of hate.

It wasn’t until Bob Rule, father of 16-year-old Linda Rule, stood and faced the killer that something inside of me and Gary Ridgway broke. Bob Rule looked straight at the Green River killer and said:

‘Mr. Ridgway, there are people here who hate you. I’m not one of them. I forgive you for what you’ve done. You’ve made it difficult to live up to what I believe, and that is what God says to do, and that is forgive, and he doesn’t say to forgive just certain people, he says forgive all. So you are forgiven.’

Ridgway’s face softened and his lips began to tremble. Then he began to cry. At that precise moment, I realised that the only way I would be able to go on living was to stop hating. I had to do what Bob Rule had done and let it go, and let Andi rest in peace.

I had been consumed with hate for the man who had murdered my daughter. My heart and soul had been filled with blackness and it nearly killed me. It had almost destroyed my family, too. I knew that if something didn’t change I would be in the graveyard, dead from a broken heart, next to my little daughter. What Bob Rule had done that day, by taking back the power from the Green River Killer, was life-changing for me.

It was then that I felt sorry for the other crime victims in the Ridgway case. I knew exactly what they had been feeling because I, too, had been in a courtroom and faced my own daughter’s killer. I remember seething with hate as I looked at him. I wanted to scream profanities at him. I remember feeling the anger as he sat there looking much as Ridgway had – stoic and hard.

But now sometimes I wish I had said the things in court that Bob Rule had said: ‘I forgive you for what you’ve done.’ I sometimes wish I had taken the power back then, when I gave my own victim impact statement. But I didn’t and I’m okay with that; because now I have let it go and I don’t hate anymore.

Rebecca has written a book on her story, ‘Little Girl Stolen’