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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Victims’ families call for hope, forgiveness

By: Sandy Strickland
Staff Writer
Florida Times
October 6, 1994

    The intruder cut a hole in the tent, grabbed 7-year-old Susie Jaeger by the neck, chocked her until she was unconscious and carried her away into the night.
    Fifteen months passed before Marietta Jaeger learned of her daughter’s fate.  Susie was killed a week after she was abducted from the Montana campground where her family from Detroit was vacationing 21 years ago.
    Jaeger, who at first wanted to kill the intruder, will visit Jacksonville tomorrow with a message of forgiveness, not vengeance.
    She and other members of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, an organization that opposes the death penalty, are on what they call a Journey of Hope, a two-week public education tour through Georgia and Florida.  Journey of Hope sponsors range from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rural Southern Voice for Peace to the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine and the National Council of Islamic Affairs.
    Jeager said her ordeal began in 1973 at Three Forks, Mont.
    “At the time, no one knew who the abductor was,” Jaeger said.  “So, I had lots of time to recognize that if I wanted to live my life as a Christian with any integrity that I would have to consider the issue of forgiveness.”
    She began to pray daily for the kidnapper.  In the weeks after the abduction, he called Jaeger several times asking for ransom but never gave precise instructions.  A year later, he called to taunt her, telling her no one would discover his identity.
    “But he hadn’t counted on a spiritual journey I had been on and was taken aback,” Jaeger said.  “I really was filled with genuine compassion.  He stayed on the phone for over an hour, wept and revealed enough information so the FBI could identify him.”
    But the evidence was circumstantial and he passed lie detector and truth serum tests.
    When he was suspected of trying to kidnap another child, the FBI asked Jaeger to meet with him to see if he would break down again.  The meeting gave Jaeger an opportunity to tell him she had forgiven him.
    A week later, he called her from another city and the FBI confronted him with evidence found in his home.  He was arrested and confessed to killing four other people.  The next day he committed suicide.
    “I felt terrible,” said Jaeger, who had asked that he be given life in prison rather than the death penalty.  “He was a very, very sick young man who may not have been able to have been rehabilitated, but I had hoped that he somehow could be.”
    Like Jaeger, Teresa Mathis of Seattle said she learned forgiveness is not a simple act.  She also is on the Journey of Hope tour.
    In 1983, her 21-year-old brother was beaten to death by an acquaintance.  On occasion, Mathis said, she still feels an urge to tie up the killer and kick in his head.
    “I think about which shoe I’ll wear when I do,” said Mathis, a Quaker.  “Then I remember it’s not a matter of vengeance.  What that person did is his problem.  I’m responsible for my actions.  I choose to be healed.”
    Still, she lives with aftereffects.
    “When my mother called me at work to let me know my brother had been murdered, nothing shocked me so much,” Mathis said.  “It’s been almost 12 years now and if my mother calls me at work during the day, I hold my breath until I hear what she’s calling me about.”