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The Story of Amy Biehl

Except for her passionate love of South Africa, Amy was a typical Southern California kid, a straight-A student and a college diving champion who would end her diatribes against apartheid with the words "Free Mandela!" So it was not surprising that when she won a Fulbright scholarship, she opted to go to South Africa and immerse herself in the country's culture and politics.  But her young life ended abruptly in 1994 when she was stoned and stabbed to death by a mob of angry, young, black militants.  She was killed by the very people whose cause she was fighting for.

But instead of being angry with her murderers, her parents did something so atypical that it boggles the mind.  The Biehls dealt with their grief by doing what they believe their daughter would have wanted: understand the fury that drove the mob, forgive the killers, and become, in effect, the patron saints of the village that her very killers came from.

Her parents, Linda and Peter Biehl, decided they had to try and understand their daughter's commitment to the people for whom she had given her.  They read her diaries, in which she wrote about her admiration for those who were suffering under apartheid.

The Biehls and their three other children decided that they had to go to South Africa.  Linda attended the trial of Amy's killers.  They visited the squatter camps of Guguletu, the black township where Amy's killers had grown up.  They came to understand how those squalid conditions could have led them to violence.  Linda went into the home of one of the murderers and met with his mother.  She says that after hugging her, "I walked out of that home.  There was a rainbow in the sky.  My heart was very light.  I felt I had come to terms.  And if that is forgiveness, I felt it.  And I felt--you know, I felt -- I feel at peace with myself.  So to me, that's forgiveness."

When asked about the Biehl's forgiveness, Rhoda Khadalie, one of Amy's professors in South Africa and a close friend said "It is a gift from God that they can forgive the killers of their daughter, meet with the mother, go into the homes of the killers and understand who they are and where they come from."

Not only do they understand, they spend much of their time in Guguletu, passing the very spot where their daughter was killed.  What they've done to carry on for her is to establish the non-profit Amy Biehl Foundation.  With $1/2 million in grants, donations and their own money, they sponsor 15 programs, including welding classes and after-school programs which involve thousands of young people, all in the very community where their daughter was killed.

What the Biehls are doing is widely known in South Africa, and like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, everyone marvels at it.  "The [Biehls have] turned it all upside down,"
Tutu said.  "It is the victims, in the depth of their own agony and pain, who are saying, `The community which produced these murderers, we want to help that community be transfigured.'"

The twelve-year-old sister of one of the murderers is enrolled in the after-school program.  And when her brother and the other two murderers applied for amnesty after serving four years in jail, Peter and Linda did not object, even though they could have blocked the release.

— Adapted from 60 Minutes, CBS News, January 17, 1999. Transcripts
available from Burrell's at Burrelle@aol.com; Posted on Ecunet by Sil Galvan, 1/29/99

Further note:
Amy Biehl grew up in the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe New Mexico; was
a regular participant in Sunday School and was one of the best performers in
the youth bell choir there. The New Mexico Alliance for Children Youth and
Families has established the Amy Biehl Award for those young people in New
Mexico who best exemplify the spirit which Amy showed for others throughout
her life.