When grieving families read their victim impact statements aloud in court, most would expect to hear words of pain, resentment, and even vengeance toward the defendant responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. For those present at the Keith County District Court on July 20 though, the words they heard were far from bitter.
On July 31, 2016, Jamison Pals and his wife Kathryne Pals, both 29, and their children Ezra, 3; Violet, 23 months, and Calvin, 2 months, died on Interstate 80 near Bruhl, Nebraska, when semi-truck driver Tony Weekly from Florida slammed into their minivan. The explosion also killed Terry Sullivan, 56, of Denver, who was in a nearby vehicle.
Nearly two years after losing their son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren, Jamison’s parents, Cedrick and Kathy Pals, wanted their voices to be heard.
But instead of condemning Weekly, the Pals, along with Kathryne’s parents, Gordy and Nancy Engel, forgave him, and asked Judge Richard Birch for mercy in his sentencing.
“I had something to say,” Cedrick told The Epoch Times in a phone interview. “Both about the loss and sorrow and grief, and about the faith and forgiveness.”
In his letter, Cedrick talked about the pain of losing his children, but also about letting go of resentment, and hope.
“I will see them again and get to spend eternity with them. The grief is very real, but it is temporary. The hope is also real, and it is eternal,” he wrote.
Kathy wrote about her sorrow, Jamison and Kathryne’s longtime goal to become missionaries in Japan, and how through the tragedy, their mission is still being fulfilled.
At the end of her address, she requested the judge have leniency in Weekly’s sentencing.
“I believe that Tony Weekly had no intention of killing six people the day he struck our children’s van,” Kathy wrote. “I believe that knowing one has taken the lives of six people is a great burden to bear. The knowledge will most likely haunt and traumatize Tony the rest of his life, as it will our lives.”
Many inmates in the courtroom present for unrelated hearings were also seen nodding and wiping tears from their face, according to a reporter from the North Platte Telegraph.
“Weekly, his wife, and his parents were very visibly moved,” Cedrick told The Epoch Times.
Weekly was sentenced to 180 days in jail, with credit for time already served, plus 24 months probation. He is scheduled to report to Keith County Jail on August 3 to begin his sentence.
Initially, Kathy was worried that she wouldn’t want to forgive Weekly once she saw him in court, but said it turned out to be just the opposite.
“I felt like so bad for him, having killed six people, and I just wanted him to know that we cared and we had forgiven him,” she told The Epoch Times.
The Pals, who happened to be staying at the same hotel as Weekly and his wife, met and spoke with the couple for a long time after court and called the experience healing.
“It gave us a lot of peace to see him face to face and be able to tell him that we forgave him,” Kathy said.
The Minnesota couple said the hardest part about forgiving Weekly is not knowing exactly what happened that day. According to the Pals, Weekly claimed he was distracted for “one and a half seconds” while putting his soda into a holder and didn’t notice traffic was stopped at a construction zone when he slammed into the Pal’s minivan at 60 to 65 miles per hour.
“But it’s over and done with,” Kathy said. “Our kids are in heaven; they all went together, we’re thankful for that. At least they’re all together.”
According to Kathy, Jamison developed a heart for the downtrodden after struggling with anxiety and depression his whole life until he started college at University of Northwestern – St. Paul in Roseville, Minnesota.
That’s also where he met Kathryne.
Jamison tells the story that as soon as he saw Kathryne he knew that he wanted to marry her,” Cedrick said.
Their Mission: Joy of Japan
Jamison “felt called to go to Japan to work with those who were strong candidates for suicide, which is so prevalent among young adults in Japan,” Kathy wrote.
They were driving to Colorado to complete the last 5 weeks of their missionary training before moving to Nagoya, Japan, in October where they would join a team at the Christ Bible Institute. They documented their years of preparation on their blog JoyofJapan.org.
The Christ Bible Institute in Nagoya, Japan, dedicated their new Church planting center to the Pals family and named it Joy of Japan after their blog, on July 13.
As painful as it is to lose their children and grandchildren, the Pals have been able to see the good in the situation—that their children’s mission is still being carried out by others. And luckily, they were also able to let go of any negative feelings toward Weekly.
“We, the parents of Jamison and Kathryne, have forgiven Tony from the beginning.”