Editor’s note: Marc Klaas is the father of Polly Klaas, who was kidnapped and murdered at the age of 12. He is a child safety advocate and is the founder and co-founder of non-profit organizations KlaasKids Foundation and BeyondMissing Inc., respectively. He is on Twitter.
I was physically shaken by Ariel Castro’s testimony because it returned me to a time 17 years ago when, I sat in a courtroom and listened to another remorseless pervert, my daughter Polly’s killer, excuse and justify his own evil deeds.
I am stunned that these guys have a right to speak in open court. Their self-serving lies are nothing more than delusional attempts to cast themselves as victims as they pitifully attempt to redefine unspeakable crimes against innocent and vulnerable victims. But the empty words of a coward cannot erase a lifetime of violence and perversion.
When Castro turned and stared at Michelle Knight, he should have been silenced and removed from the courtroom. Instead, he continued talking as he watched her. There were enough lawyers in the courtroom that somebody should have objected. Nobody did. His attempt to intimidate Knight fell flat when he — not she — looked away. That is what cowards do.
Knight has shown a remarkable amount of grace from the moment that she was freed. She overcame her fear and faced her tormentor with courage and dignity. Her capacity for forgiveness is much greater than mine because there is no way that I could have said the words that she said. However, she also reminded Castro, "You took 11 years of my life away. I spent 11 years in hell. Now, your hell is just beginning." Knight stands very tall and I am very proud of her.
There is no denying that Knight is a remarkable young woman and that society’s response to her plight has also been remarkable. But it doesn’t mean that her recovery or that of her fellow victims is going to be any easier. I have friends who were held prisoner by sexual predators for mere days, and it has taken them years — if not to decades — to put their lives back together. We need to keep them in our thoughts and prayers as they continue along the path to recovery.
There is no punishment bad enough for this guy. In an ideal world, he would have been executed. But that would have meant a trial, and that would have forced the women to testify. They didn’t want to testify and they’ve been spared that. This is absolutely the best that we can hope for. He will never have another opportunity to harm an innocent child. His time is finished. He should never be seen or heard from again.
Earlier this year, the KlaasKids Foundation established the Klaas Family Housing Fund. It is funded by a local real estate professional named Tracy McLaughlin who wanted to do something to help the families of missing children. She realizes and understands that when a child is kidnapped, everything else falls by the wayside and you can quickly slide into financial ruin.
McLaughlin wanted to help the families of kidnapped children with housing costs and we decided that Knight would be our first recipient. In a note thanking us for our $6,000 gift, Knight wrote, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly.”