As the pastor of a Lutheran church, the Rev. Rolf Olson is intimately aware of the central role of forgiveness in his religion. But applying that concept to the man who murdered his daughter is proving to be a difficult task.
“I preach, I teach the value of forgiveness. I live by it. I think forgiveness is a tool for healing relationships,” Olson told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Thursday, the day after he and his family watched 20-year-old Michael John Anderson sentenced to life in prison without parole for the October 2007 murder of Olson’s daughter, Katherine Olson.
Olson, 24, went to Anderson’s home in response to an ad he posted online at Craigslist. Identifying himself as “Amy,” Anderson had said he needed a baby sitter. According to police reports, when Olson arrived at the home, Anderson shot her in the back, bound her legs together, stuffed her in the trunk of her car and drove the car to a nearby park, where he abandoned it.
Quickly dubbed the Craigslist murder, the crime shocked the Minneapolis area and focused attention on the dangers of the Internet.
“We have no relationship with Mr. Anderson, perhaps never will … so it’s kind of premature to talk about forgiving or attempting to reconcile with someone we’ve frankly never met,” Rolf Olson told Vieira from Minnesota.
“In the New Testament the word ‘forgive’ means ‘to cut loose or release,’ ” he continued. “That’s what we’re trying to do with Mr. Anderson and his influence on our family. He’s had such a negative power in our lives that we’re attempting to cut that free, to let it go, to release it so we can get on with the vital, loving lives that we want.”
Olson was joined by his wife, Nancy, and Katherine’s sister, Sarah Richter, 27, and her brother Karl, 23.
‘Last act of parenting’
The family had attended every court hearing for Anderson, who told investigators he killed the bright and vivacious young woman because “friends of mine thought it’d be funny.” Sitting through Anderson’s six-day trial and viewing pictures of Katherine’s lifeless body stuffed into the car trunk was grueling, but Nancy Olson had told TODAY last fall that she and her husband felt that attending the legal proceedings was their “last act of parenting” for their daughter.
“It put some closure on that aspect of our parenting with Katherine,” she told Vieira Thursday.
Katherine was like Maria in “The Sound of Music,” a role she had played in a high school play, Susan Olson said. “She was Maria in ‘The Sound of Music.’ She was kooky, brilliant, talented, loving, compassionate.”
Compassion is another virtue that Rolf Olson preaches. His other daughter, Richter, said she can’t help feeling sorry for Anderson, a young man described by defense attorneys as having Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism. He did not testify at his trial and never showed any emotion during the proceedings against him.
“I guess I go back and forth about hating him and just feeling bad,” Richter told Vieira. “When you think about a 20-year-old kid who will now spend the rest of his life in jail, there’s nothing left for him. He’s going to be in jail until he’s 80. Imagine an 80-year-old man in jail having made a terrible mistake, and at our expense. I hate to say it, but I do feel bad for him. I miss my sister terribly, but that was a pretty terrible move he made when he was just 18 or 19.”
The family has established a scholarship fund at St. Olaf to serve Latino immigrants, and plans a memorial concert May 3 with the proceeds going to the fund.
“This concert embodies all of the things that were most important to Katherine and allows us to celebrate and memorialize the person Katherine was, the way she lived and the people she touched,” the family said in a statement.
Karl Olson said that the many friends who attended the trial with the family and the countless others who sent cards and prayers helped the family cope with their grief.
“It shows that people care about us,” Karl Olson said. “It shows that we are supported. It also helps, as my mom said, to diffuse the pain and the suffering that we have experienced. In the courtroom we had 45 people one day sitting with us and showing us their support, so that when we see gruesome images or hear gruesome accounts of the person we love, these people are absorbing some of that pain.”
Anderson’s sentencing has helped the Olsons to put their tragic loss behind them.
“Largely, it’s helped us to put some closure on this chapter,” Rolf Olson said. “We have found our lives to be out of our control for the last 17 months. At least now we have some sense of control each day and move forward. The grief is still there. We have no Katherine. But at least the legal process, over which we had very little influence, is now concluded.”
For more information on the foundation that the family has established, and the concert they have organized in her memory, visitconcertforkatherine.com.