Easter Sunday is a day filled with joy, gratitude, Jesus and lots of family time.
For 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr., it was just that—until he was savagely murdered by a man he’d never met.
After spending the holiday weekend doing some of his favorite things like fishing and visiting with his kids and grandkids, Robert Godwin Sr. headed out for his usual walk. As he collected aluminum cans along the Cleveland streets near his home, he was approached by a man who police identify as Steve Stephens.
Stephens reportedly pulled out his camera phone, and began recording his interaction with Godwin—which ended in him pulling out a gun and point-blank murdering Godwin for no apparent reason. Stephens then uploaded the video to Facebook, where it was shared, and remained visible to anyone for more than three hours before Facebook took it down.
The shooting of Robert Godwin Sr. launched a state-wide manhunt for Stephens that quickly expanded into Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Michigan.
He reportedly committed suicide in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday morning after a brief police chase.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” said one of his heartbroken sons. “I’m not just saying that for these cameras…this man right here was a good man. And I just hate that he’s gone.”
Since news of their father’s murder broke on Sunday afternoon, the Godwin children have responded with more grace than most people could possibly fathom.
In an interview with Anderson Cooper on Monday, one of Godwin’s daughters, Tonya, said that each of the family members have forgiven the killer, Steve Stephens, because of what their father taught them about God and forgiveness. She says, “We want to wrap our arms around him.”
The Godwin children explained to a shocked Anderson Cooper that it’s solely their faith, and knowing God as their Lord and Savior, that has allowed them to forgive Stephens for his actions.
Beyond forgiving the man who brutally murdered their father, the Godwins share their deep pain and heartbreak for Steve Stephens’ family.
“We lost our dad,” Tonya explains, “but this mother lost her son…his children lost their dad.”
They have a peace that surpasses all understanding, and unthinkable forgiveness. Both of which can only be found in Jesus Christ.
When Anderson Cooper hears the grace they’ve extended to Stephens’ family during their own time of grief and pain, he’s completely blown away.
“It’s just what our parents taught us,” Tonya responds. “[Our parents] just didn’t talk about it, they did it…they lived it…they lived forgiveness.”
She said her father would be proud of his children showing this type of forgiveness, referencing Jesus’ final words to God on the cross: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The forgiveness of the Godwin family truly parallels that of Jesus Christ, and what the events leading up to Easter Sunday are all about—forgiveness that was never deserved, and grace that surpasses all understanding.
“But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8