Murder, He Wrote

June 23rd, 2008 by Kathy McManus

A journalist writes about plotting to murder his childhood rapist, then offers forgiveness instead.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

 If you can’t kill a man, forgive him instead.

That was the mind-boggling moral journey undertaken by a writer named David Holthouse, who, along the way, was forced to define and redefine his views of personal responsibility.

At age 7, Holthouse was sexually assaulted by a high school football player. He wrote about the attack in his diary but told no one--not even his parents, who were close friends of the assailant’s parents.

For 25 years, Holthouse kept the awful secret. Then he learned that his attacker had moved to the Denver area, the same place Holthouse—by then a journalist—had moved to work for a local newspaper.

First he fixated on the memory.

Then he fixated on murder.

"I arrived at a point in my mind," Holthouse said, "where it seemed to me that murder was entirely rational, justifiable and even a morally responsible course of action."

With a gun, a silencer, and a plan, Holthouse staked out the man’s house and followed him to and from work. But before he could lure him to an out-of-the-way baseball field—"a good place for a killing"—his mother inadvertently foiled the plot. She happened upon the old diary, read about the assault, and informed the assailant’s parents.

So the murder Holthouse planned became the murder he wrote. In a remarkable newspaper article, he divulged the chilling details of his intent to kill, but not his would-be victim’s name. And he arranged a different kind of meeting with his attacker. Instead of shooting the man—who apologized--David Holthouse forgave him, choosing redemption over revenge.

His story has become an oft-sited primer about the power of forgiveness, but some readers say Holthouse did the wrong thing by not naming his assailant, saying that statistically the man is likely to abuse other children. "The victim is WRONG! He should have revealed the rapist’s name,” wrote one critic. “He condemned untold others to being victims of sexual crimes!"

Tell us what you think: Should David Holthouse have responded differently? Would it have been more responsible to reveal his abuser’s name?