The death of one’s child, I’ve been told by several people, including my grandmother, is something you never get over. My uncle Dennis died of an accidental gunshot wound when he was a young boy living on a farm outside of New Rockford, North Dakota. My grandma once said that she’d rather lose a husband or her parents before she ever lost another child again. Nearly four decades later, the pain is physically present, palpable and thick with grief and sorrow. It breaks my heart to think about it. And Dennis’ death was just an unfortunate accident.
So what Mary Johnson endured 18 years ago and has seen her way through is almost incomprehensible, but it’s a marvelous story to behold.
“I just hugged the man who murdered my son.”
In 1993, Oshea Israel was a teenage gang member in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One night at a party, he got into a fight with Laramiun Byrd — Mary Johnson’s only child — pulled a gun, and shot and killed him.
Convicted of second-degree murder, Israel was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Twelve years after his sentencing, Johnson asked to meet her son’s killer.
The experience transformed both Israel and Johnson. Now 34, Oshea has finished serving his prison sentence. They are friends working together to share their story.
In this interview from StoryCorps (audio above), they speak in loving terms about one another and talk about forgiveness, pain, and the love and mercy of a woman who embraces a man she could rightfully have hated.
Unnatural deaths caused by accidents are unbearable enough, but to lose a child at the willing hands of another individual, I imagine for most parents, might precipitate into bitterness, anger, rage. For Mary Johnson, it became a redemptive moment, an opportunity to transcend the violence. She founded From Death to Life, an organization that supports mothers who have lost children to homicide, and encourages forgiveness between families of murderers and victims. And, Oshea Israel, he’s going to college.