Sunday, February 25, 2001

Forgiving daughter's killer was healing

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Springfield Township couple who lost their daughter in a stabbing death asked a thousand people Saturday to bow their heads and pray.

        They did, even though Don and Irma Olberding had asked them to pray for their daughter's killer.

        Forgiveness, the Olberdings said, is crucial to healing.

        “It's everything,” Mrs. Olberding said. “You can't let bitterness run your life. Otherwise, it'll mess you up.”

[photo] Irma and Don Olberding at the Catholic Women's Event in Sharonville.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        The Olberdings, both 64, founded the 5K Reggae Run in honor of their daughter, Maria. They were key speakers at the Sixth Annual Catholic Women's Event at the Sharonville Convention Center.

        The Olberdings held rosaries as they shared how bereft they felt when their daughter died in May 1994. Maria Olberding, preparing for the Boston Marathon, was running through Hyde Park when 16-year-old David Kohls attacked her with a 13-inch butcher knife.

        The couple said they were devastated when police came to their door that night and told them that their daughter was attacked. Mrs. Olberding remembered praying on her way to University Hospital.

        “I can still picture it very vividly,” she said.

        “But I had a strong sinking feeling that God wanted Maria. For some reason, I just had this sinking feeling that she wouldn't be healed.”

        Maria Olberding, a Xavier University graduate who was working at a marketing job, died at the hospital. Her killer was sentenced to life in prison.

        Mrs. Olberding thought she would never smile again.

        Friends and relatives kept the Olberdings in their prayers, suggested forgiveness and provided strong and steady support.

        After a month, the couple began to heal. Preparing for the first Reggae Run accelerated the process, they said. The annual runs, usually in October, raise funds for the Make A Wish foundation.

        “We were so ready to get onto something positive. We knew God did not want us to slump around,” Mrs. Olberding said.

        Saturday's crowd gave audible sighs of delight when the Olberdings shared their belief that Maria Olberding is in heaven and that they've forgiven Mr. Kohls.

        Every Reggae Run since has concluded with a rainbow or pink sunset - a sign their daughter is looking down in approval, the Olberdings said.

        Mary Holloway, 40, of Burlington, said the presentation moved her.

        “That's the ultimate act of forgiveness,” she said. “To forgive releases you from being in that painful spot and hopefully gives meaning to the life that's been lost. I really hope that I could do it.”

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