Parents Forgive Son’s Killer

News: US News
by Church Militant  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 23, 2024   

Compassion and healing amidst tragedy

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SAN ANTONIO - A devout Catholic couple has forgiven their son's murderer, who was recently sentenced to 40 years in prison. 

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Matthew Wiessing at sentencing

Matthew Wiessing, now 27 years old, was convicted for the murder of 23-year-old San Antonio teacher Michael Echaniz. The incident, stemming from a tumultuous breakup, occurred on March 10, 2022, at a northwest-side apartment complex.

Initially, San Antonio police investigators maintained Wiessing's initial arrest, two weeks after the murder, lacked probable cause. After reviewing surveillance footage, however, they discovered incriminating evidence on his cell phone, including instructions on silencing gunshots and erasing gunfire residue.

Wiessing admitted to the murder, citing a wish to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend, who had recently begun dating Echaniz.

Echaniz taught fourth- and fifth-graders at Great Hearts Forest Heights school in San Antonio, Texas.

Parents Forgive

But for Echaniz' parents, a devout Catholic couple, punishment by the legal system proved insufficient. Drawing strength from their faith, they chose forgiveness. 

I yearn for the day you and Michael, my son, stand together in paradise.

As Wiessing faced sentencing, John Echaniz spoke directly to his son's killer: "As for me, I forgive you for what you've done," he stated. "I yearn for the day you and Michael, my son, stand together in paradise."

"And I say that from the depths of my heart," he added. "Along with justice, I seek God's mercy for you. And I pray for your heart to be open to the unconditional love of the Almighty."

The grieving dad recounted the shock and pain of losing his son as he held up a cherished picture of Michael. He also inquired about Michael's final words and described the heartbreaking fatal wounds Wiessing inflicted on his son.

Sharon Echaniz, who did not attend the sentencing due to illness, mirrored her husband in a statement he read for her, adding, "Matthew Wiessing, despite all this, I forgive you. I do not wish you harm."


John Echaniz forgives his son's killer at sentencing
 

"I pray you choose to dedicate the remainder of your life, a gift you still possess, to making amends for the devastation you caused," her statement pleaded. "And in doing so, may you find peace."

Her statement emphasized that Wiessing had missed numerous opportunities for reflection and repentance before committing the crime. She highlighted Michael's acts of kindness and service, underscoring the positive influence he could have had on countless others had his life not been cut short.

I know that God … will help me get there.

Media outlets across the country covered the story, sparking discussions about the power of forgiveness.

Arriving at Forgiveness

Arriving at forgiveness was a gradual journey, much like grief, John explained. He described experiencing stages of denial, anger, and, ultimately, forgiveness. But it was ultimately the family's faith that saw them through.

Image
In court, John Echaniz shows a photo of his
son and later offers the killer a rosary like the
one his son often wore on his wrist

He explained that he and Sharon engaged in daily family Rosaries, prayers to patron saints, and spiritual practices including Mass attendance, Eucharistic adoration, and Scripture study — all of which provided them with strength and sustenance during their journey toward forgiveness.

Guidance from their pastor and priests, who encouraged them to authentically work through the forgiveness process at their own pace, helped them achieve their sense of inner peace, the couple explained.

"I know that God, if he knows that that is my goal … will help me get there," Sharon Echaniz's statement emphasized. "It's just that faith in God (that says), 'Yes, I want this, and I want to be able to do it. Please help me there; I know I'm not there yet.'"

In his courtroom statement, John reminded the world that forgiveness and change begin with each individual, one heart at a time.

He poignantly demonstrated how it's done.

"I mentioned that Michael wore a blue Rosary on his wrist just like this one," John said. "I would like you to have this. ... Even if you can't take this particular rosary with you ... I hope that at least the prayer can be a light in your darkness."

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