Faith and Forgiveness: A Father's Journey

Kent Whitaker's faith led him to forgive a son who arranged to kill the family.

ByABC News
April 28, 2009, 5:33 PM

April 30, 2009— -- How could a boy who grew up in a loving and generous household turn into a man who plots the murders of his entire family?

Kent Whitaker has grappled with that question since one terrifying night in December 2003, when he returned home from a dinner out with his wife and two sons and was ambushed by a masked intruder wielding a gun.

In the chaos of a few moments, Kent heard four loud bangs and felt a searing pain in his chest. The entire family had been shot. Kent survived his wounds, and so did his oldest son Bart, but his wife of 28 years Tricia and his younger son, 19-year-old Kevin, were killed.

Today Bart Whitaker, 29, is sitting on Death Row in Texas. He was convicted of the capital murders of his mother and brother and sentenced to die by lethal injection.

But despite all that he had been through, Kent Whitaker decided to support his son in a way many couldn't comprehend, most of all Bart himself. Kent forgave his son.

"This has been a horrible thing that has been continuing and ongoing," Kent said. "If I had been holding on to revenge and anger and had turned bitter, I would still be in the middle of it."

While he was still recovering in the hospital, Kent says he grappled with feelings of revenge, but ultimately experienced an epiphany.

"Deep down inside, as time went by, I became more and more convinced that there was a chance that [Bart] was responsible for the shootings," he said. "But there was something else that happened the night of the shootings that is the foundation for my actions ... and that was my decision to trust God when it didn't make sense. Because when I chose to do that, I realized He was leading me down a path to ask me if I would forgive the shooter."

Kent said his son had a nurturing and happy childhood. As young boys, Bart and Kevin played together constantly, and the family took vacations to nearby Austin or Houston, or to visit a lake house they shared with his wife's parents. In the later years, the Whitakers would take their sons skiing or to Cancun.

"Tricia and I both loved our kids unconditionally," he said. "We guided them as morally as we could. ... We were very active in both of their lives. And we were very supportive. So when I look back?. I don't see anything glaring that would have caused something to go wrong."

"He was a very precocious young kid, very intelligent," he said of Bart. "He spoke early and he had a great deal of self-confidence."