Though negative stories abound in today’s media world, that doesn’t mean good stories don’t exist. Case in point: Christian and local media are telling the story of a father who forgave the man who killed his children and grandchildren.
On July 31, 2016, Florida truck driver Tony Weekly slammed into a minivan on the interstate in Nebraska. Inside the vehicle were Jamison and Kathryne Pals, both 29 years old, along with their three children: 3-year-old Ezra, 23-month-old Violet, and 2-month-old Calvin. All of them died.
According to a local NBC affiliate, the Minnesota family was driving to Colorado to train as missionaries before moving to Japan. But when they slowed down for a construction zone, Weekly’s truck crashed into them from behind and burst into flames. Weekly was on his phone at the time of the accident, reaching for a drink, Star Tribune reported. His mistake cost six lives. Besides the Palses, another driver, Terry Sullivan, also died in the crash.
In court, prosecutors and first responders backed a 5-to-9-year sentence for Weekly. But on July 20, the judge instead decided on a 180-day sentence with two years probation. That’s because the families of the victims asked forgiveness for Weekly.
“I am not in the position of authority to extend you mercy, Tony, however I can request mercy for you,” Jamison Pals’s father, Rick Pals, read in an impact statement for the sentencing. “I know how much God has forgiven me. How can I not forgive you?”
“Everybody makes mistakes, and he didn’t start out that day planning on killing our children,” Pals added, even as he “struggle[d] to find the words to describe the grief.” He left Weekly with three words, “Forgiveness. Mercy. Hope.”
Weekly wept in response while in court.
“If there was anything I could do to stop that accident two years ago from happening, I would do it,” Weekly said, according to another NBC affiliate. “I wake up every day and I think about Jamison, Kathryne, Ezra, Violet, Calvin and Mr. Sullivan.”
But Mr. Pals’s kindness didn’t end there. After the sentencing, he and his wife, Kathy, embraced Weekly with a hug.
“I was kind of worried,” Mrs. Pals said. “I thought, maybe when I see him I won’t be so forgiving, but it was just the opposite. It instilled in me more of a desire to be at peace with him.”
Outside the courtroom, Weekly met again with the Palses, and local news revealed they said he “expressed genuine remorse for the crime and told them he prays every day for the families he impacted.”
They weren’t the only ones who forgave Weekly. Like the Palses, Kathryne’s parents also asked the judge for leniency.
“We ask the court to give the maximum allowable grace,” read Gordy Engel, Kathryne’s father, who wrote a letter to the judge with his wife, Nancy.
“We’ve had people say, ‘Well you have to be super Christians,’” Engel remarked. “No, we’re just plain people but we have a super God that just lifted us up.”
His wife agreed. “That is how we can walk this path,” Mrs. Engel said. “It’s because we have hope.”
The families set up memorial funds to raise money for other missionaries to accomplish what their children and grandchildren could not.
In a personal blog still online, Jamison and Kathryne Pals wrote about their three kids: Ezra, who “is learning to swim and can hold his breath underwater for 14 seconds,” Violet, who “can normally be found talking on your cell phone with her Grandpa and Grandma or putting your chapstick on her babies,” and Calvin, who “loves to eat, smile and baby talk.”
Jamison Pals even revealed the words he used to ask his wife, Kathryne, to go to Japan as missionaries with their three little ones:
Kathryne, I am asking you to go with me. Let’s go…or at least let us do everything in our power to go. The Lord may see fit to keep us here, but if he does not, let’s go. It may cost us much, but would you have it any other way? Whatever we lose will be worth it if we gain more of Christ. I believe the Lord is sending us. I am asking you to trust me. More importantly, I am asking you to trust God’s sovereign guidance and care. He will be with us, and he will go before us. Surely, his goodness and mercy will follow us all of the days of our lives. We will dwell with him forever, wherever we dwell for this life.
And in the next life. At a memorial service for the family, Kathryne Pals’s younger brother, Michael, went off-script in a speech about his sister.
“What an amazing thing to worship in here together,” he said. “But them, as a family, are at the feet of Jesus worshipping. And I don’t think it gets any better than that.”
Like Rick Pals (and the other family members), another Father once also gave his Son for the forgiveness of sins. That event saved humanity. Let’s hope this smaller, human example also changes lives.