Murder and a Journey of Faith
Murder is the ultimate crime against the victim and the family. No one should have to face such a horror, but this family is thankful they didn't have to face it alone.
"Your brother is dead." The phone call left me stunned. Derek dead! "His body was found early this morning on the beach … no, not a drowning … no, not a heart attack … suspicious trauma to his head … a probably homicide."
Derek was a professional trombone player in the Central Command Band of the Canadian Armed Forces (see below).
Derek murdered! The shock was so intense that I feared for my sanity. In what was the worst moment of my life I cried: "Please help us, God! We need you help right now!"
Derek Kenneth Rogers, my only sibling, was killed on July 31, 2002. He was vacationing in Ocean Park, Maine, U.S.A., when he was attacked by drunken partiers on the beach. Derek was a soldier of the Ottawa Citadel church, a Salvation Army bandsman and professional trombone player in the Central Command Band of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Murder is the ultimate crime, the primary victim being the murdered person. But family members become victims too. No family should ever have to walk down this path, but thankfully, I am not walking it alone. My relationship with God through Christ has helped me to deal with extreme shock, intense grief, anger, horrific images and the legal proceedings.
When I first heard the news at my home in Ottawa, God held my mind with two thoughts. The first was that our Salvation Army friends in Maine, who had identified the police photos of Derek's body just a few hours earlier, were praying for us. The second was the recollection of a hymn I had not sung in years: "Oh God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home." I told my husband and sobbing children: "We're going through the stormy blast right now. God will shelter us."
The police brought my brother's wife to us that evening, and then left our family alone with our unspeakable grief. Within 24 hours, the media were outside the house. Private grieving was intense, but public grieving was a daunting experience. I have grieved the loss of my brother in unexpected ways. Now there is no one left to share childhood family memories, and I no longer have Derek's support in caring for our mother through the final stages of Alzheimer's.
God has wept with us, for He did not plan or cause this murder. The emotional pain is excruciating, but comfort has come from identifying with the sufferings of Jesus, out of which God brought the salvation of the world. To be "chosen" to suffer is a Christian privilege. Pain and tragedy can be borne so that God is glorified and good can come out of it. A young man told me last summer that he became a committed Christian as a result of Derek's funeral. The establishment of a scholarship fund in Derek's name will also bring good out of this tragedy. Seeing good things helps heal the grief.
We are being "refined as gold" (see 1 Peter 1:7) as God's grace sustains us in our grief. God has ministered His grace through biblical promises of resurrection and heaven, but also through human "angels." In the first 48 hours after Derek's death, many friends arrived at our door with meals. On the third night, 60 Salvationists encircled us at the crime scene and helped affirm our faith by singing with us: "If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, 'tis now." The Canadian military brought Derek's body back to Canada, saving us the trauma of identifying him at the morgue.
The funeral itself comforted us with the music of both the military and Salvation Army bands and the hundreds of friends who came great distances to support us that day. Major Cliff Hollman handled the media for us on the day of the funeral, and e-mails from Lt-Colonel Bob Chapman gave me hope that we could get through this tragedy. The government of Maine provided us with a victim liaison counsellor and The Salvation Army provided pastoral support in court. Throughout everything, God's people were praying with and for us. God's grace is sufficient and He is faithful.
Recurring images of horror are inevitable after a violent murder. The first night I prayed: "Oh please, God, let it have been fast—a shot to the head or a vital organ … " It was not so. Drunken people beat Derek to death. Rightly advised to privately view his body, our corps officers, Captains Brian and Deborah Coles, prepared an appropriate Scripture for that most difficult scenario: "Horror has overwhelmed me … . But I will sing of your strength. In the morning I will sing of your love … . You, O God are my fortress, my loving God" (see Psalm 55:1-6; 59:16-17).
The forensic evidence and the autopsy revealed Derek fought valiantly for his life, and suffered horribly. To think my brother had left this life surrounded by such anger. How do I cope with the details of how he died—cruelly beaten, then asphyxiated when the killers packed his mouth with sand? Photos of the suspects published in the newspaper added to the horror. Fortunately, God has kept me from bitter hate.
In November 2002, I dreamt of my brother. Although he knew he was dead and in eternity, he had no recollection of how he had died. I woke up thinking: Yes, it is consistent with God's Word—for how could heaven be a place where there is no sorrow or tears, if people could remember how they died? Psychiatrists might say the dream just reflected my deepest longings, but, whatever the cause, I awoke with the distinct impression that God had given me this dream to help assuage the horror.
The investigation and legal proceedings presented their own challenges. Maintaining silence in the face of media reports that contradicted autopsy evidence was extremely frustrating. When reporters tried to incriminate the victim, I would think of Jesus, who remained silent before His accusers.
Media interviews were tense. I'd pray: "Please God, help me say the right things." Once, to keep my focus, I kept mentally repeating: "Glorify God; glorify God … " He enabled me to think quickly on my feet, to avoid discussions of evidence, to maintain self-control and to deprive reporters of the hate and vengeance they were hoping for in my responses.
Seeing the killers in court was very difficult. Problems in the prosecution led to plea bargains being offered. The judge's words have rung in my mind repeatedly: "There is no justice for a life taken … legality does not always reflect reality."
Only my faith has allowed me to let go of the anger and leave the killers to God's perfect justice. In court I presented Bibles to Angela and Benjamin Humphrey, both of whom are now serving time for this killing. Detectives also delivered Bibles on my behalf to the other two individuals who were on the beach that night.
This continues to be a journey of faith, and my prayer will always be the final words of my eulogy: "To God be all praise and glory, even in and through this death of my brother, Derek Rogers. Derek, we will love you forever."
Memorial Scholarship Fund
A scholarship has been established in the name of the late Derek Rogers to allow deserving young people from Canada and Bermuda to attend The Salvation Army's annual Territorial School of Music and Gospel Arts. Derek himself attended the school in his youth and his family feel this fund will provide a fitting and far-reaching memorial to his short life. To contribute, please send your tax deductible donation to: Paul Goodyear, Financial Secretary, Derek Rogers Memorial Scholarship Fund, Salvation Army Territorial Headquarters, 2 Overlea Blvd., Toronto, Ontario M4H 1P4.
Originally published in Faith & Friends, August 2004.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2007 Christianity.ca.