Betty's Story: A Mother's Forgiveness

ByABC News via logo
March 28, 2005, 7:55 AM

March 28, 2005 — -- Meet Betty Ferguson, of Erie, Pa., the first of three finalists in the "Good Morning America"/Simon & Schuster "Story of My Life" contest.

Hers is the story of a mother and daughter, a murder mystery and an incredible twist that led to personal redemption.

Betty says that her life really didn't begin until the birth of her first child, Debbie. "When she was born, I felt a closeness to somebody that I never really felt before," Betty said.

She and her husband, Dick Gama, had four other children, filling Betty's life with happiness, but Debbie and her mom shared a special bond.

Debbie loved life, says Betty, but she was a typical teenager. She and her best friend, Robin Burick, were twirlers together and joined at the hip.

"Debbie became a double twirler where she twirled two batons," said Betty. "And I was very excited for her because I didn't really have much of a life of my own."

Then something terrible happened. On a muggy August day in 1975, Betty's world turned upside down.

She and Debbie had an argument. Debbie stormed out of the house and wasn't heard from for days. Betty thought maybe her daughter had run away.

"We started looking for Debbie, going to her friends' house, calling people," Betty said.

After days of agony, the family received some devastating news. Debbie's body had been found in a creek, with wire around her hands, neck and ankles. She had been raped and strangled, according to the coroner's report. Debbie was 16 years old.

Betty could not believe it when she heard the news.

"It took my breath away," she said. "I could feel the air, I could not get it into my lungs. I thought I was dying in that chair."

Months dragged by and the police found few leads in the case.

Anger soon overwhelmed Betty, as well as a hunger to find out who killed her daughter. She decided to take matters into her own hands.