If anyone deserves to be filled with hate and bitterness, surely it must be Terry Caffey. On the night of March 1, 2008, his wife and two sons were brutally murdered in their Alba, Texas, home. Caffey himself was shot multiple times, but managed to survive and crawl out of his home, which the intruders had set on fire.
But that isn't the truly horrific part of this story. The Caffeys' then-16-year-old daughter, Erin, was charged with the murders and eventually pleaded guilty to three counts of capital murder for her role in the crime. Her then-boyfriend and an accomplice, the actual killers, also pleaded guilty and are also in prison. According to police reports Erin and another accomplice waited in a car down the road from her house while her family was murdered — with Erin doing nothing to stop it.
The truly remarkable part of this massacre, however, is that Terry has forgiven his daughter and the other three — even the two young men who committed the murders. Terry will be at Anthony Wayne First Church of God, 6012 South Bend Drive, at 9 a.m. Sunday to share his story of forgiveness.
"When you do forgive, you forgive for yourself," Terry said in a phone interview Thursday. "I refused to grow into a bitter old man. ... Forgiving brings a lot more happiness."
That journey to forgiveness didn't happen quickly. "Even to this day it's a process," he said.
The No. 1 question he gets is how he could forgive the people, including his own daughter, involved in killing his wife and boys He says the answer is "by God's grace," but adds, "it's not quite that simple."
The details of that night are well-documented because of police forensic work and Terry's own memories. He woke up to the sounds of gunfire in his bedroom. Erin's boyfriend at the time, Charlie Wilkinson, and Charles Waid had entered the home with a gun and a sword. They shot Terry, shot and stabbed his wife, Penny, in their bed, went upstairs and shot Matthew, 12, and stabbed Tyler, 8. They then set fire to the home and fled with Erin. Terry escaped the burning home and crawled to a neighbor's house for help.
The motive, according to Erin, who was interviewed by Dr. Phil McGraw for his TV show, "Dr. Phil," was that she was mad at her parents because they didn't like her seeing Wilkinson.
How a rather typical rift between a teenager and her parents turned into a massacre is harder to understand. In a recent "Dr. Phil" show — see parts of it online at www.drphil.com/shows/show/2167/ — McGraw repeatedly tries to get Erin to admit she masterminded the murders. She admitted she knew Wilkinson and Waid were going into her house to kill her parents and didn't do anything to stop it. She said she didn't believe they would actually do it, but admitted she probably "added fuel to the fire," referring to encouraging Wilkinson and Waid.
Terry steadfastly believes Erin was not the mastermind, but said, "whether she did or not (instigate the murders) I will love, forgive her and stand beside her til the day I die."
Erin agreed to a plea deal and is serving two life sentences plus 25 years for plotting the brutal attack. She won't be eligible for parole until she is 59. Wilkinson and Waid avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty. They were sentenced to life in prison without parole. The fourth accomplice, Bobbi Gale Johnson, the getaway driver, was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Terry said the first year after the murders was the most difficult. At one point when he was in the depths of despair he took a gun back to the site of where his house had stood, intending to kill himself. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a burned piece of paper — a page from one of his wife's books — and picked it up. It read, in part, "I couldn't understand why You would take my family and leave me behind to struggle along without them." The passage goes on to talk about God's sovereignty as it relates to a tragic loss. The book is "Blind Sight,” by James H. Pence.
Finding the burned page was a message from God, Terry believes, and was a turning point in his healing.
About six months after the attack he bought an RV and parked it right on the spot where his burned out home had been and lived there. He said the night of the attacks, he had been forced out of his home. This time he would set the terms for how he would move on. His reasoning was, "when I leave again I'm going to be good and ready." He now lives in Gilmer, Texas.
He hasn't just forgiven his daughter, he has forgiven Wilkinson and Waid, too. "I had the hardest time forgiving the boys," he said. "It was really tough."
But the most difficulty he had was forgiving himself for not being able to intervene the night of the murders. "I should have been the protector of my family," he said.
Terry, a devout Christian, now spends his time traveling to speak to groups about his personal journey to forgiveness. He has formed an organization, Across America Ministries, to encourage youth to stand by their principles and not follow the crowd. He said he's trying to take a tragedy and "turn it into something good."
He remarried "too soon" after the tragedy, and that marriage did not work out. Then "God brought another woman into my life," he said. They are expecting a baby in June. The baby will be named Ryan Paul, the middle names of his deceased sons.
About every month or so he makes the 3 1/2-hour trip to visit Erin in prison in Gatesville, Texas.
"Erin, today is doing wonderful," he said. "She's given her heart to the Lord."
Still, he says the traveling and two-hour visits make for a "long and stressful day.
"It's still hard to visit my daughter."