What would Heather Boyum say?
In the wake of deeply disappointing verdicts in the trials of the two young people responsible for her death, what would Heather Boyum say?
I can’t know.
We probably never met. We undoubtedly were at the same events on several occasions, at 5ks and marathons, but I don’t believe we ever actually met.
So I can’t be certain.
But I can hazard a guess.
Because since that horrific Sunday morning last July, we have learned a lot about the woman so deeply loved by her students and family.
The details are painful to remember, but have been repeated countless times.
She was up early, out on a training ride, a friend bicycling behind her. They were not far from her home, on the side of a wide-shouldered road, when there approached them from the rear a raging storm of stupidity and evil.
An ex-con on a motorcycle, out of prison about a month, a list of drunk driving offenses on his dossier, and an addled young ditz, behind the wheel of a borrowed car. No licenses, no brakes, no sense. Their blood streams a cornucopia of intoxicants legal and illegal.
Testimony in recent days has showed that the two of them had spent all of the previous night drinking and drugging and partying.
And now they were acting out some sort of drunken foreplay on a quiet Sunday-morning road, he passing and repassing her, popping wheelies and revving about.
In one such demonstration, he roared up from behind, passing on the right, swinging out onto the shoulder of the road.
He missed Heather Boyum’s friend.
Neither one of them had seen her.
Neither one of them checked her body.
The ex-con’s motorcycle slammed into the back of the bicycle and threw Heather Boyum into the roadway. She was struck again and thrown by the ditz’s car.
She died instantly and, her friend would testify, peacefully.
She was 40.
She was a beloved wife, and the mother of two little girls.
And one of those school teachers whose smile and love and drive to better her students define them. She was intelligent and bright and bent on being the best she could be, and challenging her students to be the best they could be.
She was a good person.
And she was killed by bad people.
By short-sighted, selfish, irresponsible people whose disregard of law and common sense stole her life and all the joys it would have brought her over the next 40 or 50 years.
They took her husband’s sweetheart.
They took her daughters’ mother.
They took her parents’ joy.
They took a community’s light.
And this week in court they got off.
In a maddening display of something’s not right, the ditz and the ex-con were acquitted on the top counts they faced. She won’t spend another day behind bars and he dodged the bullet on the three most serious felonies he faced.
It was either bad law or bad juries or bad prosecution, but the demands of justice were sorely denied, at the cost of great disappointment to family and friends and a community looking in.
But that doesn’t answer the question.
What would Heather Boyum say?
I’d like to venture a guess.
I believe Heather Boyum would speak about consequences and potentials, about choices and changes.
And I don’t believe she would speak to us.
I believe she would speak to them.
To the people who killed her.
I believe she would tell them that they had done a horrible thing, that they had made foolish and selfish choices that had created monstrous consequences for themselves and others.
She would tell them that they have blood on their hands.
She would want them to recognize what they had done, and she would want them to feel remorse for having done it.
Not to punish them, but to teach them.
She would tell them that if they continued on as they have been going, that she would not be their last victim. She would tell them that in addition to taking away her life, they were in grave danger of throwing away their own lives, and bringing even more sorrow to people, known and unknown.
She would tell them that they had to apologize. That they had to feel regret for their actions and they had to express that regret, to their victims and the community.
Not as an act of retribution, but as an act of redemption.
She would tell them that it is a long journey from where they are to where they ought to be, that they have done much in their young lives to shame themselves and hurt others.
But she would tell them that it is not over, that they are not over, and that in addition to facing the music for what they have done, they must make the changes for who they may become.
Teachers are about making good citizens, about correcting bad behavior, about showing the path forward.
It’s hard to do that in this situation.
But I believe Heather Boyum would try.
I think that is who she was as a teacher.
You must recognize that you have done wrong. You must feel remorse for having done wrong. You must confess and apologize for your actions, and accept the consequences and punishments associated with them. And you must abandon your wrongdoing, you must leave it behind. You must choose the right and do the right.
You must be a better person.
That is the road to redemption, that is the road to forgiveness.
That is the road to making some small good out of this massive horrible heartbreak.
That is what Heather Boyum would say.
They killed her. The courts failed to deliver justice. But the daily lessons she taught in school, the good example she set in her life, the values she chose as her own, all show the way forward.
Even for the people who killed her.