A candle to light the dark
By Traci Chapman
“These are the people who are left to pick up the pieces caused by someone else’s destruction, people who do their best to wait patiently for justice, people who ask for nothing more than dignity and respect and to be treated fairly.”
Canadian County District Attorney Michael Fields
Renee Weber has taken a journey spanning more than 20 years, one she says will never end. That journey began with an unspeakable act of violence, but has continued through faith and forgiveness.
The story of Weber’s life – and how it changed forever – began Wednesday, Dec. 8, 1993, with a phone call. Weber’s sister, Cindy Jarman and her 5-year-old daughter, Tonya, and son, Timmy, 3, were missing, along with a truck Cindy had borrowed. In the days that followed, a search for Weber’s family became the discovery of their bodies in a rural Canadian County area near Piedmont. It was only days later that Cindy’s ex-boyfriend, Michael Hooper, was arrested for the crime, Weber said.
“We really didn’t have a lot of doubt,” Weber said Monday night.
It was the start of Weber’s journey – a trial, a conviction, a death sentence, appeals. Then a turnaround when the Oklahoma Court of Appeals revoked Hooper’s death sentence. It was later reinstated in 2004, when Hooper was again given a death sentence. In August 2012, almost 19 years after his crime, Hooper was given a lethal injection for his crimes.
That was the end, and yet it wasn’t, Weber said. Through the journey that began with grief and anger there began to be something else – faith and, finally, forgiveness, for the man who had taken Cindy and her children, she said.
“I went through it all – confusion, hurt, hatred and anger,” Weber said. “The question is, ‘Where do I go from here?’”
What Weber did was go to church with her mother and learn to accept a power higher than herself and greater than the court system which would try Michael Hooper. As she learned about Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, Weber said she realized something that shocked her.
“At that moment, I had forgiven the man who murdered my family,” she said.
The years of hatred and anger – and that ultimate forgiveness – taught Weber she had given Hooper power over her. It had allowed him to control her thoughts and feelings and turned her, and her love for her sister, niece and nephew into bitterness, she said.
“I allowed him to take over my feelings, I couldn’t move forward,” Weber said. “Once I saw that and once I realized what was going on – I was no longer the victim.”
Although Cindy Jarman and her children have been gone for more than 20 years, Weber, her family and friends keep the family alive. Cindy’s spirit is in everything Weber does, which includes her work to help others who have a journey like hers. Her journey, still ongoing, was what led her to Canadian County Courthouse Monday night as keynote speaker of the 22nd annual Canadian County Candlelight Vigil.
“I am sorry for the reason you are here,” Weber told the crowd gathered at the annual event. “It doesn’t matter if it happened just recently or a long time ago, we all know the same pain.”
Violent crime knows no distinction – background, financial status, race, religion – none of those matter when a family member is taken suddenly and violently. Some of those attending the vigil have been a part of the event for years, while every year new people join the event, Canadian County District Attorney Michael Fields said.
“It’s not a happy gathering, but hopefully it’s a healing one,” Fields said.
There is the family of Amy and Bryor Gibbins, a Calumet mother and son allegedly killed by a Tulsa man June 16, 2013. They are just beginning a journey in a case that has not yet had a preliminary hearing. There to help them are Kenneth and Nina Bryan, parents of Nichols Hills Fire Chief and former Mustang City Councilman Keith Bryan, who was killed in September 2011. His wife sits in jail for life, convicted last year of his killing.
Some families may never get answers, such as El Reno educator James Shaw’s wife and children. Shaw was stabbed to death in his home in May 2007. No one has been arrested for his murder and leads have gone cold, prosecutors and law enforcement personnel said.
“There’s always hope for a breakthrough, and it’s heartbreaking to watch what a family goes through in something like this,” OSBI public information officer Jessica Brown said last year.
While the pain will never go away for the family and friends left behind, there are more resources for them in the 30 years since the passage of the Victims of Crime Act. Today all 50 states have crime victims rights laws, as well as victims compensation funds. These are not financed by taxpayers but by the fines and penalties paid by those convicted of crimes, Fields said. More than 10,000 victims services agencies also help those affected by crime across the country.
The movement to help victims has come a long way, but that journey – like those of Weber, the Bryans, the Shaws and others – will not be over until every victim receives the help and support they need.
“There are certainly challenges to overcome and we won’t rest until we have accomplished everything we’ve set out to do,” Fields said. “Until the day comes when every single victim of every single crime receives the services he or she needs, we will continue to push for change.”
In the meantime, prosecutors and law enforcement will continue to work for justice and healing for the families of those taken by violence, the district attorney said.
“It’s what we do, really it’s who we are,” he said last year after the Rebecca Bryan conviction. “If we can find that justice, help a family find that peace, then we’ve done what we set out to do.”