Forgiveness is not an easy skill to acquire. Preachers often deliver sermons on forgiveness, friends casually bring up the topic and psychologists consider it to be “an important process in psychotherapy or counseling.”
Some misdeeds, betrayals and injustices are so deep and life-changing that sometimes it seems forgiveness is out of the question.
That is not the case for Robin Doan, who, in 2009, forgave Levi King for wiping out her entire family in Pampa, Texas when she was just 10 years old. In an interview many years after the incident, King gave his reason for the massacre—he felt the need to kill to experience some perverted sense of peace. Madness.
On the night of September 30, 2005, King entered the farmhouse of Robin’s family and shot everyone inside. Bullets grazed Robin’s left leg and arm, but she played dead for two and half hours to ensure that the intruder left the house before she called 911 for help.
She explained on the phone that there was a shootout in her house, and that she thought she was the only one left alive. She waited for what seemed to her an eternity, and when the police finally came, Robin hugged Chad Brooks, the former deputy sheriff, while the rest of the law enforcers cleared the area.
She was the lone survivor in the senseless killing spree by King that left Robin’s mother, stepfather, brother and her pet dog lifeless. The then 10-year-old Robin heard the screams of her mother who was six months pregnant and the 15 shots fired by King.
Robin spent the following days with counselors and law enforcers who interviewed her and asked her to recount the events of that night.
Life was never the same again for Robin. The first few weeks after the massacre, she lived with her grandmother. She then moved to the house of her father and his new wife. After which, she moved in with her aunt when she was in middle school—all in the Pampa area, not far from the farmhouse that brought her horrific memories.
The trial of King took place in Texas four years after the incident. Robin was 14, and her testimony was needed to get a conviction for King for the murder of her family. All but one juror voted for the death penalty—which meant King could not be given the capital punishment because there should be a unanimous vote for it. King was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
When Robin made a victim’s impact statement, she addressed her family’s murderer and told him that she forgave him.
In the Texas Monthly article that came out in 2014, she said: “I don’t know why I said what I said. Maybe I just wanted him to know that I wasn’t going to let my life be ruined by him—that I wasn’t going to let him take away the best of me. I wanted him to know my life was still going to turn out to be good, no matter what awful things he had done to me and my family.”
After the trial, she set out to do the usual things that teenagers do in high school—study, enjoy and those extras such as becoming a cheerleader. In 2014, she was hoping to get a nursing degree from West Texas A&M University, in Canyon, not far from Pampa.
King deprived Robin of many things: a regular childhood, motherless teenage years, a farm life she was so used to and sibling emotional bond that was shortened. In a completely senseless act of violence, King gave Robin what a former district attorney described as “cataclysmic” experience.
Yet in four years’ time, Robin forgave King during his sentencing – it’s forgiveness he never sought, but which she gave anyway. She didn’t believe in tit for tat, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth which ordinary mortals prefer. There was no dismay on her part when King dodged the death penalty.
She moved on and didn’t speak about anger towards King after the trial. She focused on her goals, stayed in Pampa and continued to live her life free of resentment (watch the Lone Survivor Episode of 48 Hours on Youtube for the full story).
Anger, indignation and bitterness towards people who have betrayed or wronged us can be heavy until we exact revenge. Some wait for karma —but that is not always swift.
Perhaps, we can learn a thing or two from Robin Doan: acceptance and forgiveness can be “unburdening.” We should all try to forgive.