Man exercises a year of forgiveness after drunk teen driver kills wife, two children

Published: Monday, April 8 2013 9:00 a.m. MDT

Chris Williams stands near the underpass where a teen driver hit and killed his pregnant wife and two of his children. Williams publicly forgave the teen.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Dec. 28, 2007. In light of Elder Dallin H. Oaks' reference to Chris Williams in his April 2013 general conference talk, we are sharing this story again.

When the two cars collided that February night, the impact spun around the Volkswagen Passat and smashed it into a bridge support under the freeway. After the screeching and the thud, the shocking groan of metal hitting metal and then concrete, the only sound in the cold night was the insistent revving of the Passat's engine.

Chris Williams once worked as a hospital orderly, so he immediately could see his future. In the back seat were the deep, bloodless gashes in 11-year-old Ben's face, and the motionless body of 9-year-old Anna. As he watched, his pregnant wife Michelle gave her last, sad exhale. Williams himself was in so much pain it was a struggle to turn the key in the ignition. In the minutes before the ambulances arrived, as horrified passers-by tried to extricate him, Williams put his head back and moaned.

But then a thought rose to the surface: "Whoever has done this to us, I forgive them. I don't care what the circumstances were, I forgive them."

Later, police found a dazed 17-year-old boy several blocks from the scene. Police estimate Cameron White had been going at least 60 mph and was high on vodka when his car came down the hill on 2000 East, heading straight for the Williams family car, killing Williams' wife, two of his children and severely injuring a third. Still, despite the realization that his loss involved not an accident but someone's bad choice, Williams held fast to his decision to forgive.

Like all examples of extravagant forgiveness, that decision was both a simple resolution and an epic, complicated journey — one that confounds those of us who imagine how vengeful we might feel in the face of such a horrific loss.

Williams made headlines last February when he publicly forgave White. That was just six weeks after another grieving father, Gary Ceran, publicly forgave the drunken man who killed his wife and two of his children in a Taylorsville intersection on Christmas Eve 2006.

In March, another grieving parent, Anna Kei'aho, stunned a courtroom full of onlookers when she forgave the man who had gunned down her son. In October, Ben Howard stood up in a Layton courtroom and requested leniency for the driver who slammed into his van on Highway 89, killing his wife and two of his children, a request that made the judge and court bailiff cry.

The fact that these acts of forgiveness surprise us is a reminder of how difficult an act it is. In a world where old grudges erupt daily in roadside bombs, to forgive may or may not be divine, but it isn't always human nature either.

The forms of forgiveness

Years earlier, when Chris Williams was 16, a little boy had run out onto 8th Avenue and into the path of his car. And so, the night half his family died, after White was apprehended, Williams remembered what it was like to be a teenager all alone in the back of a police car. But his desire to forgive had less to do with his own experience as a teenager who had killed a child, he says, and more to do with what by then had become a kind of practice.

"It was almost like I had drilled myself for that moment," he says.

Williams had essentially trained — in the way a marathon runner might start with leg exercises and shorter runs — so that when the time came to forgive the nearly unforgivable, he was ready.

Part of that training included a prayer he used to say after his first son, Michael, was born: "Help me appreciate him, and if he's taken prematurely, give me strength." Three years ago, when Michael nearly died of toxic shock syndrome, Williams said the same prayer.

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