Photography by Brian Moody
On New Year’s Eve 1997, Katy Hutchison’s husband, Bob, was beaten to death while checking on a party being thrown by his neighbour’s son. In the small town of Squamish in British Columbia, a wall of silence soon grew up around the murder. It was four years before Ryan Aldridge admitted to having delivered the fatal blow. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison.
Less than an hour after Bob was murdered, I stood in the emergency ward beside his body, overwhelmed by a sense of peace, knowing that wherever Bob was now, it was much safer than the place he had just been. Then I went home to tell my four-year-old twins, Amelia and Sam, that their Daddy was dead. I looked into their eyes and knew that I could not allow their lives to become dominated by their father’s death. I promised them and I promised myself that underneath the horror of what had just happened we would find a gift.
As for the rest of the community, the code of silence began that night. No one called the police, no one spoke out. The murder was devastating, but the silence from so many compounded the devastation. In the end, I chose to leave my community and return to the community I had grown up in.
Eventually, after four years, Ryan Aldridge was arrested. That same day, as I was leaving the police station, I spotted him on camera, alone in the investigation room. The police had left the tape rolling and I stood and watched him falling apart. I didn’t want to leave him.
After his arrest, police officers showed Ryan a video I’d made for him urging him to dig down deep to find the words to say, “I did this”. Four years of silence, grief and fear then fell away as he fulfilled my wish and confessed to the crime. Those words would begin the healing process for both of us. He then stunned police by asking to meet me, and so, less than 24 hours after his arrest, I found myself face-to-face with the man who had murdered my husband. As he sobbed it was all I could do not to hold him. Second to the day I gave birth, it was probably the most human moment of my life.
Some time into Ryan’s sentence I discovered an incredible organization called Community Justice Initiatives that was able to organize a Victim-Offender Reconciliation between Ryan and I. It took place in the prison and lasted most of the day: we spoke about almost everything – our lives, our hobbies, our families. There were tears there were long silences where neither of us had the words to fill the space. In that meeting I told Ryan that I had forgiven him.
I’ve been able to forgive Ryan because of the immense sympathy I have for his mother. I understood her loss. We haven’t met yet but we write and I cherish her letters. Forgiveness isn’t easy. Taking tranquillizers and having someone look after your kids would probably be easier, but I feel compelled to do something with Bob’s legacy. I want to tell my story to help change people’s perceptions – and where possible I want to do this with Ryan by my side. I’ll never understand how our universes collided – but they did, and as Bob can’t make further contribution to society, then perhaps Ryan can.
Amelia and Sam have fully supported my choice to forgive Ryan, but others have asked, “How could you?” The way I saw it how could I not? My children had lost their father and I did not want them to lose me in the process. If I had been consumed by hatred, anger and vengeance, what kind of mother would I be? Something happened when Bob died and I found my voice. Forgiveness became an opportunity to create a new and hopeful beginning.
Looking back 17 years, I realize how dynamic the forgiveness experience has been. It changes shape; some days growing, others withering. It is heart work of the highest order. I am thankful to Ryan for making the very best of his life, moving forward and working hard to care for his family and contribute to his community. But mostly I remain grateful for the brave hearts of my now-adult children and my second husband Michael, who supported my choice and trusted me on this uncharted journey of the heart.
Katy’s forgiveness is the most incredible thing that anyone has ever given me. It changed my life. There’s trouble every day in prison, offers of drugs and threats of fights, but I don’t give in. My life would still be full of anger and violence if it wasn’t for Katy.
I grew up in a small town. I was bullied as a child but eventually I started hanging around with a group whose lifestyle impressed me. For the first time I felt accepted. By the age of 16 we were experimenting with drink and drugs and the partying began.
Unfortunately I started getting into trouble with the local police and was involved in three separate alcohol-related car crashes. Separate to this, a good friend then died in a car accident which totally devastated me.
On New Year’s Eve 1997, a friend was throwing a party. His father was away. There were over 150 guests, and with so much drugs and alcohol going around fights started breaking out. When a stranger came up the stairs and asked us all to leave, my friend hit him. He fell to the ground and I kicked him four times in the head. After that I moved on to another party, not knowing I’d made the worst mistake of my life.
Throughout the investigation the secret of my crime began to destroy me. I became depressed and introverted. I could well have committed suicide if, after four years, I hadn’t broken my silence. My family was devastated.
So, within an hour of being arrested, I wrote a letter to Katy and her children, apologizing for what I’d done. I also asked a police officer if I could meet with Katy. I’d read about Katy in the papers but never expected her forgiveness. If I put myself in her shoes, I think I would have hated the person who had done what I’d done to her.
The big question I still ask myself is, “Why did you do this?” And I still can’t find an answer. Doing time is easy compared to the guilt I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life. But with Katy’s forgiveness – I hope that perhaps, one day, I’ll be able to forgive myself.