On April 12th a 5-year-old boy and his mother visited the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota for a fun outing. The day took an unimaginable turn when the little boy, Landen, was grabbed by a stranger and thrown over the third-floor railing. He landed nearly forty feet below.
My son and I have a yearly tradition of visiting the Mall of America around the time of his birthday (April 9th), so the news story struck close to home for me. I could picture it all in my head. I could feel the shock. I could imagine my frantic search for the nearest escalator. I could feel the desperation to be at my baby’s side.
Witnesses described how Landen’s mom insisted that people pray for her boy as he lay bleeding. I wondered if that would’ve been my response?
I’d like to think so; I have faith. I believe in prayer. But would I have found words to shout other than “no” and “why”?
In the weeks since Landen was hospitalized, he’s undergone multiple procedures—and is recovering and showing no signs of brain damage. His recovery defies logic, it is truly miraculous.
A Go Fund Me page established to help the family with medical costs soon after the incident quickly surpassed a million dollars. The family’s request for prayers resulted in millions of prayers. So much goodness surfaced in the wake of such a horrific act.
Today, the man who committed this awful crime was sentenced to 19 years in prison. On one hand, that doesn’t seem near long enough; on the other hand, as someone who according to his mother has struggled with his mental health, it seems an unfair penalty for illness.
That part of the story is messy and hard to make sense of.
The part of the story that is beautiful came today in the victim impact statements provided to the court by Landen’s mom and dad. The statements weren’t about vindication—they were steeped in faith and forgiveness.
From Landen’s mom:
“You intended to harm him, but God intended it for good! To accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
“You chose to think about yourself that day, what you were feeling and wanted to do to someone else. I’m sad you chose anger and hatred. Something really bad must have happened to you for you to want to do this to a sweet, innocent little boy. I’m sorry for whatever you’ve gone through. I hope God can save you and show you what His love is all about someday . . .
“I want you to know I forgive you. Not because what you did was okay, not because I want to; but [because] God wants me to. I’m not letting you take any part of our family. You’re not taking our love, our joy, our peace; you’re not taking anything! I refuse to be full of anger and hatred, I refuse to let you take my joy. My sweet, precious baby, my amazing gift from God is going to be okay because Jesus loves him so much and he loves me so much. He answered my prayers and gave him back to me.
“You get to take nothing from us. You chose to listen to the Devil that day. I don’t get to judge you or hate you. Instead, I am full of God’s love and I have overwhelming joy and peace in my body as I sit and watch my boy heal in miraculous ways right in from of my eyes.
“The whole world is seeing God move in this little boy that I get to call mine. The Devil tried to take him out, but GOD Saves. God ALWAYS wins!
“God will judge you someday and I have peace with that. I hand it off to him and you will take none of my thoughts EVER again, I am done with you. God, it is all in your hands.”
Landen’s dad echoed the family’s faith in his victim impact statement, also read aloud to the man convicted of the crime in court:
I do want you to know that I forgive you, because it is what God calls me to do and holding hate only harms me and I will not allow that and while I want the maximum punishment for you in this life I do want you to know that there is a God who does love you and seeks to save you. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that who ever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This is the grace that our merciful, loving, and forgiving God offers you. This is the path to eternal redemption for you bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus, and he is greater than any evil you have committed. I pray you call on his name so that you will be saved.”
Again, I can only wonder if my own faith is deep enough to have offered such grace. There is no stronger testimony I can imagine than a mother and father forgiving the person who harmed their child.
The family has said Landen’s spirit is strong, even though he has a long road of recovery ahead of him. What we can know without a doubt is that Landen is covered in prayer and God will continue to use his story for good.