It’s been more than three decades since Lillie Harris lost her son.
The years following Paul Walden’s murder were a fog. Harris said she wasn’t sure how she got back and forth from work every day.
She was able to live again when she decided to forgive Roy Allen, the 22-year-old man who shot her 17-year-old son on Aug. 28, 1989 in Tacoma.
Watching the video this week of Brandt Jean forgiving Amber Guyger – the Dallas police officer convicted of shooting and killing Jean’s brother, Botham Jean – reminded Harris of her path to forgiveness.
“I remember what I had to do to move forward, in order to move past the incident with my son,” Harris said. “I had to let go of it, so the only way to do that was to forgive the person that shot my son and, in doing so, that freed me up.”
Like Jean, Harris holds it up as example of what Jesus can do in your life.
“Being a Christian, I wanted to pattern myself after the life of Christ,” Harris said. “In order to do that, I had to forgive, and that got to be more compelling because the fog brought on so much sorrow.”
Harris’ daughter, who is Walden’s older sister by eight years, recalled her brother’s potential. She remembers how the family should have been buying clothes for Paul Walden’s senior picture. Instead, they bought clothes to bury him in. Like her mother, Elisha J. Mitchell said she was able to forgive through God.
“People think that’s impossible,” said Mitchell, a singer and songwriter. “With men, it is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”
Following Jesus is at the family’s core. Elisha Mitchell’s husband of 35 years is Lonnie Mitchell, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church pastor.
Harris remembers how Allen refused to look in her direction in court. Charged with first-degree murder, he did not say anything.
Harris said she wished Allen had apologized.
“But he never did,” she said. “I looked at him in court and I asked him, ‘Well, how do you feel that you messed up a lot of people’s lives? Your family is grieving because of you, my family is grieving because of you. My son isn’t here because of you.’ ”
The bullet shattered in Walden’s brain, but he did not die immediately. Even though Walden couldn’t speak, he could still squeeze hands.
“It was at that time that my husband made sure that he knew God and he knew Jesus and that he was going to heaven,” Elisha Mitchell said. “He was talking to him, squeeze my hand one or two times.” She said this was one of the ways she was able to come to terms with her brother’s death.
Both Harris and Elisha Mitchell said Walden was creative. Harris said every time she bought him school clothes, he found a way to modify them. Lonnie Mitchell remembers receiving a haircut from Walden, while Chris Walden, Paul’s older brother, looked on.
“Paul said, ‘Well, how do you like it?’ ” Lonnie Mitchell recalled. “I said, ‘Just cut it.’ So, he started cutting it, and Chris, he just … fell out. I looked in the mirror and said, ‘Oh, boy.’ ”
“Time is a very slow healer,” Elisha Mitchell said of the haircut.
She said God makes possible things that seem impossible. Elisha Mitchell said Chris Walden did something she didn’t think she could have done. He went to the morgue to give his brother one last haircut.
“We know exactly where he is, and we wouldn’t have to worry anymore,” Elisha Mitchell said. “That was my resolve.”
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