On the night of March 1st, 2008, in a quiet, rural Texan community, Terry Caffey’s wife, Penny, and their two young sons, Bubba and Tyler, were brutally murdered by their 16-year-old daughter’s boyfriend, Charlie Wilkinson, and his friend Charles Waid. Terry and his daughter Erin were the only members of the family to survive, but in the days after the tragedy Erin was arrested and charged with being the mastermind behind the murders. Testimony from Wilkinson and Waid clearly laid the blame with her.
That Saturday I got home at midnight, I came in from a 14 hour shift and I was tired. I warmed my supper up, ate a little and went straight to sleep. I never heard another sound after that until 3am when our bedroom door flew open.
My first instinct was that one of the kids had had a nightmare; then gunfire erupted. It is the loudest sound you can ever imagine. I threw my arm across Penny, and took shots in my arm and face which blew me out of bed and knocked me out.
When I came round I heard commotion and two voices. I felt someone kick me in the foot and heard heavy breathing. My only thought was, god make it quick. But nothing happened. Blood was coming out of my mouth, nose, eyes and ears. I remember trying to raise myself up but I couldn’t feel the right side of my body. Then, all of a sudden, I started thinking, “the children, the children.”
I heard footsteps going up the stairs and I began to panic. I grabbed the mattress, the cover, anything I could to pull myself up. Then I heard Bubba cry out, “Charlie why are you doing this?” So that’s who I had just seen – Charlie, Erin’s boyfriend. I knew why he was there: he was getting revenge because we had made them break up.
Erin had always been a very good kid; she always had a smile on her face. But once she began to date Charlie she changed considerably. She had always taken pride in how she looked, but then she began to slip and she became disrespectful towards Penny. A few days earlier we’d found out what kind of character Charlie really was, with the drinking and the sex, and told her to break it off.
Again I heard Bubba cry out, “no Charlie, no”; then I heard more shots and fell back onto the floor. I don’t remember anything after that. I found out later they had come in with samurai swords and found Tyler in the closet. They then took turns stabbing him like a rag doll; they stabbed him to death.
I had passed out a second time and when I woke up the room was on fire. Somehow I pulled myself up and climbed over the mattress. That is where I found Penny. I had never seen such a sight. They had nearly decapitated her.
Our bathroom was the only place to get out. I made my way through the window and just fell to the ground. If I could just get to my neighbours, Tommy and Helen, they would make everything alright. It took me about an hour to crawl the lengths of about four football pitches. I made it about halfway and just wanted to die. But then I thought, if I couldn’t save my family I’ve got to live long enough to make the people who did this accountable. I used every ounce of strength and just kept focused on the light in Tommy and Helen’s window.
Finally I collapsed on their porch. I couldn’t have got up if I’d wanted to. Tommy and Helen called 911 and I was taken to the hospital.
The days and weeks that followed, the grief, I cannot put it into words. I was suicidal. I had so much bitterness and hatred. I wanted to find these guys; I wanted to strangle them.
As time went on I began to realise that my grief and anger would destroy me. I would never be able to honour my family if I let this destroy me. I decided I would not become a bitter old man. Forgiveness took months with me praying continuously even when I still had rage towards God. But then, one day, I went back to my property alone, which I had never done, and looking up into the heavens with both arms stretched out, I asked, “God why didn’t you take me, why did you take my family, I need an answer now, not next week, not next month, I need an answer today”.
It was so profound because as I said those words I saw a piece of paper stuck to a tree a few feet from me. On it were the words, “You’re sovereign; You’re in control.”
The grieving process is definitely a journey. It’s not something you can turn a switch on and everything’s okay. I have my moments, my days, where I cry but those days come further and further apart.
I forgave my daughter more easily but to forgive the guys who did this, for a long time felt too much.
When the attorneys told me they wanted the death penalty, I prayed again and asked what would Jesus do? I believe he would have spared their life so I wrote letters and protested at the headquarters of the attorney general’s office, asking them to spare the boys’ lives. They were shocked and asked me why.
I want them to wake up every day and think about what they took and hopefully one day they will find remorse in their hearts. I want people to draw goodness from all this.