Too Evil to be Forgiven?

We all have those moments that are carved into our minds for the rest of our lives. One of those moments for me began on April 6, 1997. This particular evening I was driving from an appointment to my home in Elizabethton, Tennessee. As I listened to talk radio, I heard the news that a family from Johnson City, the Lillelids, had been shot and left along a rural unpaved road in nearby Greene County. Vidar and Delfina were shot multiple times and died at the scene. Tabatha, their 6 year old daughter, would die the next day. Somehow, Peter, the 2 year old son, would recover from the gunshot to the eye. It was a dark, bleak day for our community. It was a day in which intense outrage was birthed.

Upon hearing the news I, too, was immediately angry. With intensity, I thought “I hope they catch the guy who did this!” A few days later they did. However, it wasn’t “a guy;” it was six teenagers from a small town in Kentucky. The video clips on the evening news showed the world the faces and gothic garb of six delinquents. Their dress, their hair, and their faces combined to portray a gang of outcasts. They looked like the kind of people we find easy to despise, regardless of what they do, or don’t do.

Having been raised a Christian, I had been taught that Jesus is a forgiver of sins. It is a basic tenet of our Christian faith. The Bible is dotted with stories of bad people receiving the loving forgiveness of God. “Christ receives sinful men,” we sing. Yet, occasionally our belief in the extent of God’s forgiveness is challenged. We may not say the words, but our actions reveal our beliefs; some people are beyond God’s forgiveness; some people have crossed too far over the line. The murder of the Lillelid family by a group of dreadful teenagers was one such occasion. Forgiveness? Not for these six.

Though I cannot explain why, as I watched the news footage of the teens being escorted into the Greene County Jail I felt compassion for them. I wondered if they had any hope.

Aiming to get their attention, I included cartoons—cut from magazines—with the letters I sent to each of them. The letters reached their destination and I began a new journey that would forever change the way I looked at the people we love to hate.

Stephen James tells the story much better than I do. I will let him take it from here: Life Sentence

For additional background on the teens see Murders at Payne Hollow Lane & Six. More recent commentary can be found at The Ten Year Anniversary of the Lillelid Murders.


Jack Bruce, formerly a minister for 20 years, is now Vice President, Strategic Operations for The Benefit Company in Atlanta, GA.

You may follow Jack on Twitter at


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