Sally Lancaster has been practicing major forgiveness for much of her adult life.
Eighteen years ago, Lancaster’s baby girl, Rebecca, was accidentally run over and killed by her grandfather in the driveway. “My dad never forgave himself,” Lancaster said. But she did.
Then on August 4, 2008, Lancaster’s 19-year-old son, Troy, was shot and killed by Michael Edgar, a 20-year-old acquaintance, recently out of jail on parole. Sally Lancaster has forgiven him, too. She told him so, this past May 26, the day he was sentenced in Alameda County Superior Court to serve 51 years to life in state prison for the crime.
Lancaster said she prayed God would show him mercy.
“When we forgive someone, it allows us to release so much anger and pain,” Lancaster acknowledged in a Contra Costa Times newspaper story May 29. “It’s not for us to judge what makes some people do what they do.”
“The world has so much hatred and violence that sometimes people take death lightly, especially young people,” Lancaster told the Times.
“Forgiving him was the least I could do. We all have to work with what we have. I think that’s what is intended for us.”
Ironically, the day of the sentencing happened to be the feast of St. Philip Neri, patron of the Alameda parish where Lancaster and her children worship.
In a Catholic Voice interview, Lancaster related the events of her youngest son’s last day on earth. Just hours before he died, Troy had attended an evening vigil Mass, reading over the Scripture passages to himself, “almost like he knew,” recalls his mother.
A 2007 graduate of Alameda High School, Troy had recently started a job at the Alameda Theater and Cineplex on Central Avenue. His mother said her son received a call from Michael Edgar’s girlfriend, asking if he could pick up a theater application from her at the Esperanza public housing complex in Alameda. Both Troy and Michael liked the girl.
According to the Contra Costa Times story, Edgar was angered when his girlfriend told him that Troy had been text messaging her. Edgar was also upset because Troy had chided him for taking a cheap shot at a mutual friend during a physical fight that took place just hours before the slaying, according to prosecutors.
The news story reported that during Edgar’s preliminary hearing, a girl testified that she was watching television with her younger sister when she heard a gunshot and looked into the complex courtyard from her second story bedroom window in the Esperanza building. Lancaster was on the ground and the shooter was standing over him with his arm outstretched pointing down, apparently holding a weapon.
Lancaster was shot with a small caliber handgun around 2:50 a.m. police said. He died several hours later at Highland Hospital in Oakland.
From the very onset of the tragedy, Sally and Cliff Lancaster and their remaining six children have been supported by St. Philip Neri parishioners. Several of them accompanied the family to court.
Greta Rosenberger, director of RCIA and adult faith formation in the parish, said that Sally Lancaster goes to daily Mass and “prays the rosary with us after Mass.” She is also a regular attendee at the Monday evening prayer/Scripture study and a monthly women’s group.
Lancaster’s reaching out in forgiveness to her son’s killer is characteristic behavior, said Rosenberger, noting that the grieving mother sees tragedy as something to surrender to. “She has a great trust in God’s perfect plan and knows that God is using Troy to pray for her entire family right now.”
Lancaster told Rosenberger that she expects that Troy is praying for the young man who murdered him, so that both men may one day be friends in heaven.
Lancaster said she is able to cope with her son’s death in this faith-filled manner because she believes Troy “was at the peak of who he was when he died. He could have spiraled down, but he was trying to pull himself together. I think God permits things to happen and we don’t see the bigger picture.”
Part of the bigger picture might be the impact her son’s death has had on his friends. “They’re starting to change and to better their lives by getting jobs and going to school. That’s really neat.”
Lancaster adds that they’ve “put more value on life and gone deep about spiritual matters because they could be taken away too, like Troy.”
Printed with permission from The Catholic Voice.