A mother whose only child was shot dead has shown the ultimate forgiveness – by inviting her son’s killer to live next door.

Mary Johnson, 59, now lives in the apartment adjoining the home of 34-year-old Oshea Israel and they share a porch.

In February 1993, Mrs Johnson’s son, Laramiun Byrd, 20, was shot in the head by 16-year-old Israel after an argument at a party in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Israel, who was involved with drugs and gangs, was tried as an adult and sentenced to 25 and a half years. He served 17 before being released.

He now lives back in the neighbourhood where he grew up – next door to the mother of the young man he murdered. Mrs Johnson said she originally wanted justice and to see Israel locked up for what he had done.

She said: ‘My son was gone. I was angry and hated this boy, hated his mother. ‘[The murder] was like a tsunami. Shock. Disbelief. Hatred. Anger. Hatred. Blame. Hatred. I wanted him to be caged up like the animal he was.’

She decided to found a support group and counselled mothers whose children had been killed and encouraged them to reach out to the families of their murderers, who were victims of another kind.

‘Hurt is hurt, it doesn’t matter what side you are on,’ she said.


Mercy: Mary Johnson, 59, said forgiving Oshea Israel doesn’t diminsh what he did

Then just a few years ago, the 59-year-old teacher and devout Christian, asked if she could meet Israel at Minnesota’s Stillwater state prison. She said she felt compelled to see if there was a way in which she could forgive her son’s killer.

At first he refused but then nine months later, changed his mind. Israel said he was shocked by the fact she wanted to meet him.

He said: ‘I believe the first thing she said to me was, “Look, you don’t know me. I don’t know you. Let’s just start with right now.’’ ’

The pair met regularly after that. When Israel was released from prison around 18 months ago, Mrs Johnson introduced him to her landlord – who with her blessing, invited Israel to move into the building.

Mrs Johnson and Israel are now close friends, a situation that she puts down to her strong religious beliefs but says she also has a selfish motive. She said: Unforgiveness is like cancer. It will eat you from the inside out.’

‘It’s not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he’s done. Yes, he murdered my son – but the forgiveness is for me.’

Mary Johnson even wears a necklace with a two-sided locket – on one side are photos of herself and her son; the other has a picture of Israel.

Israel admits he still struggles with the extraordinary situation he finds himself in.

He said: ‘I haven’t totally forgiven myself yet, I’m learning to forgive myself. And I’m still growing toward trying to forgive myself.’ Israel now hopes to prove himself to the mother of the man he killed.

He works at a recycling plant during the day and goes to college at night. He says he’s determined to payback Mrs Johnson’s clemency by contributing to society.

He visits prisons and churches to talk about forgiveness and reconciliation. Mrs Johnson often joins him and they tell their story together.


Source: DAILY MAIL REPORTER 8 June 2011

This article can be found in Mirror 0815.