‘Deeply religious’ victim forgives attacker

The Denver Post has a compelling interview with a wounded victim of the Aurora, Colo., theater massacre.

The stirring opening of the story:

AURORA — One of the victims in the Aurora theater shooting said Wednesday he’s already forgiven the suspect in the rampage, James Eagan Holmes, and hopes to speak with him someday.

“Of course, I forgive him with all my heart. When I saw him in his hearing, I felt nothing but sorrow for him — he’s just a lost soul right now,” said Pierce O’Farrill. “I want to see him sometime. The first thing I want to say to him is ‘I forgive you,’ and the next is, ‘Can I pray for you?’”

Before reading the rest, what basic questions do you expect this report to answer?

I want to know what the victim believes. I want to know why he feels compelled to forgive the gunman. I want to know specific details about his religious affiliation and faith background.

Does the story answer these questions to my satisfaction?

Not really.

Readers learn that the victim works for the Denver Rescue Mission (but his specific role and duties go unexplored).  Then there’s this:

On Sunday, the deeply religious man said he’ll tell his story during three services at the Edge Church, based in Liberty Middle School in Aurora.

Deeply religious?

Is O’Farrill a Christian? One would assume so, although the story never uses that term or provides any background on the Edge Church.

Later, there’s this riveting scene involving O’Farrill and another shooting victim:

In the aftermath of the shooting in which 12 people were killed and 58 wounded, Pourciau and O’Farrill found themselves on adjoining stretchers waiting for treatment. Because their injuries were deemed non-life-threatening, the two spent much of the time in a corner speaking about what had transpired. At some point, O’Farrill asked for a Bible and started reading. Soon, Pourciau asked if he would read some scriptures aloud to her.

“I was so happy I found a believer,” she said.

A believer in what? I’m really not trying to be facetious. As the narrative rolls on, readers learn that the two victims “share a bond” and sang ”Amazing Grace” together.

The story ends this way:

“When he stood above me I felt that evil presence. He fired a couple more shots and the truth is, at that moment I thought I was going to die. But God came in, and all of a sudden the killer just decided to stop.”

Again, I ask: Why does O’Farrill feel compelled to forgive the man who shot him? Presumably, it has something to do with his faith.

Image of Pierce O’Farrill (left) via edgechurchaurora.com

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

    Yeah, this one stood out to me. I didn’t know for sure that the person was Christian, but when I saw an article about this (possibly not this particular one) I just saw ‘victim forgives shooter’ and… no explanation of why.

    Is this sort of thing consciously omitted?

  • http://thewardrobedoor.com Aaron

    Well, it’s not mainstream press like the Denver Post, but some stories at the Baptist Press, including one that I wrote do give more details about O’Ferrill’s beliefs and the beliefs of The Edge Church.

    This is a broad article on several Christians in Aurora:
    http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=38336

    This is one specifically on O’Ferrill:
    http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=38327

    There is also a Q&A with O’Ferrill set to run tomorrow that has him speak a little more in-depth about his ordeal in the theater and his hope to speak to other victims and the shooter.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Is this sort of thing consciously omitted?

    I’d like to think not, but given Aaron’s links, how difficult would it have been to identify the victim as a member of a Southern Baptist church?

  • Dan Bloom

    This is a very good post! I was watching the Anderson Cooper 360 Show on CNN International here in Taiwan at 8 am today and on came this segment of the show with an in-depth interview by Anderson with O’Ferrill. I am not a Christian, but as always I follow religious stories with deep interest as a Jewish writer and news reporter, …and it was weird, yes, the CNN story introduced O’Ferrill as a “deeply spiritual man”. It reporter did not say Christian, although I inferred from OF said that he was some kind of Christian, but I was not sure at all which branch. And it was weird that the reporter used the word deeply spiritual rather than the more normal “Christian.” OF never spoke of Jesus when he spoke, just of God and forgiveness, and his words were cool, man, but there were sort of New Agey but also somewhat low-educationy. So reading this good post here gives me more insight into where OF is coming from. I think this story has legs, as they say in the newsrooms of the world, and i am a reporter in Taiwan, age 63, so I hope you stay on this one. It’s very interesting!

  • http://!)! Passing By

    This is a good example of how we perceive what we read. While forgiveness isn’t a specifically Christian act, “reading the bible” gets you down to Christian or Jewish; The Edge “Church”, of course, pushed it over to Christian, but even there, it could be a trendy emergent group, a Pentecostal congregation, or the Southern Baptist Church it is. Who knows, at least from the article? At any rate, I concluded “Christian” early on, based on my own perceptions as a Christian, and not from facts the writer should have given me.

    But then, I’ve worked around homeless folks, and my perception is that he might be a working resident of the Rescue Mission, which is, itself a Christian ministry.

  • Ricky

    saw story at: http://www.christianexaminer.com/
    apparently Pierce O’Farrill is a member of The Edge Church

    “Ryan Heller, O’Farrill’s pastor at The Edge Church in Aurora, said O’Farrill has opened a much-needed dialogue on forgiveness.”

    see: http://www.christianexaminer.com/Articles/Articles%20Jul12/Art_Jul12_40.html

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Dear person leaving the “Jesus said turn the other cheek” Scriptures, just a clarification about what GetReligion is: We’re a website that critiques the secular media’s coverage of religion news. Our comments section is reserved for the discussion of the journalism. Yes, we all could post Scriptures making our own suggestions about why a victim would forgive, but that’s not the point. The point is that the journalist did not ask the victim this question (or at least did not report his response).

  • http://razorswift.wordpress.com Razor Swift

    Bobby Ross Jr.

    Sorry I did not know that. Thank you for the clarification/correction.