Buck Blodgett's teen daughter Jessie was raped and strangled by her ex, but he's helping spread love among perpetrators' families
Whenever horrendous crimes occur, from mass shootings to rapes, and murders, the focus is understandably on the victims and their families but, the perpetrators have families too, who often are horrified and guilt-ridden by what happened, says Blodgett
In September, Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles' 24-year-old brother Tevin Biles-Thomas was arrested in Georgia after being indicted on murder, manslaughter and other charges in a New Year’s Eve party shooting.
Biles, at the time, extended her support to the victim's family but at the same time pointed at something we usually forget — the accused have families too.
Whenever horrendous crimes occur, from mass shootings to rapes and murders, the focus is understandably on the victims and their families but, the perpetrators have families too, who often are horrified and guilt-ridden by what happened, says Dr. Buck Blodgett, someone who knows this all too well.
The founder and director of the LOVE>hate Project, Buck's family was torn apart when his 19-year-old daughter was killed by her highschool ex and childhood friend, someone the family knew well.
His daughter Jessie was a gifted musician, an only child to Buck and his wife Joy. Growing up in Wisconsin, she was a stage actress who also taught music to kids. On July 15, 2013, Jessie was found unresponsive in her bedroom — she had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death, in her own home.
Daniel Bartelt, her rapist and killer, was also connected to another attack a few months prior on a jogger. The jogger had put up a fight and he had left her alone. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
The tragedy hit their family hard but they found their coping mechanisms. "My wife Joy is more 'normal' than me. She deals with this in her own quiet space. She doesn't want support from friends and strangers." he tells MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).
Talking about it just re-triggered intense emotions for her, he says almost like twisting a knife into the wound that just won't heal. But he just couldn't not talk about it.
"I had to share Jess, her story, and her message with anyone and everyone who will listen. I had to do something, anything. For me, responding to loss and injustice with purpose and a mission has been very healing," he says.
Jessie's father believes that the families of the accused are victims in their own right. "Of course, every situation is unique just as every person is unique, but it is common for the parents, children, siblings, and even extended families of the accused to suffer too," he says.
"Let's make this simple: imagine you're the mom or dad of a serial killer. How would you feel upon discovering what your child has done? Imagine the self-blame, the wondering if you could or should have done something differently, the feeling of betrayal that your child shamed the family this way?"
"What if you were the son or daughter of a convicted rapist and all your coworkers saw the story on the news?" he asked.
Bartelt's mother, Laura had said during his trial that they had done all they could to give him a good home to grow up in and that they didn't even know he was lying to them. Buck says that he saw the parents in the many court hearings and he saw just despair in her eyes.
"I saw the anguish in his dad's face, with no hint of malice towards me, 'the enemy who is coming for his son'," he recalls. They had no hint of denial but just sorrow for the situation and Jessie.
"It was just obvious that after such incomprehensible violence we all needed love," he says.
His work, the LOVE>hate Project advocates love over hate, and uses the story of Jessie's murder to educate, inspire and motivate people to be resilient, end violence, and choose love.
He urges people who have been through a loss like him to remember that hate does not change the past. "When tragedy strikes, we cannot undo it. We must go forward somehow. As with all of life, how one goes forward is just a choice," he says.
To go with anger, resentment, regret, and self-pity or with purpose, care and forgiveness is a choice one has to make, he says.