Shooting, Arson Survivor Whose Family Was Slain Forgives Daughter, Killers For Plotting Murders

Terry Caffey was shot five times, escaped a house fire, but his family didn't.

ByClaire Pedersen and Lauren Effron
June 26, 2012, 2:48 PM

June 26, 2012— -- Terry Caffey is a survivor of a brutal murder attempt.

He survived being shot five times and the arson that burned down his Alba, Texas, home. His wife Penny and their two young sons, 13-year-old Matthew, whom everyone called Bubba, and 8-year-old Tyler, did not.

ABC's new TV series, "Final Witness," recreates the 2008 tragedy Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET from court documents and interviews with those involved, and Caffey detailed what happened that fatal Friday night for "Nightline."

"I am sound asleep in my bed and just immediately the gunshots went off," he said. "It was so loud and it's even hard to describe. I mean, can you imagine someone standing over you and shooting when you're sound asleep and now you're being attacked in your bed?"

Caffey said his wife had been shot first. She was found facing their bedroom door.

"The first few bullets hit her and then I raised up and I threw my body out and I took a few rounds in the upper body part and the chest and I got shot in the face. And I was blown out of bed," he said.

As he was bleeding from his gunshot wounds, Caffey said he tried to get through the bedroom door and all he could see were flames and black smoke.

"The house is exploding, it's totally engulfed, and I'm forced back in the bedroom," Caffey said. "I am trying to climb over the bed but that's where the flames are and that's where I found Penny, and when I saw her, it was a terrible scene, her nearly decapitated head. I knew she was gone."

His son Bubba had come out of his bedroom to the railing to see what was happening and was shot in the face. Caffey's other son, Tyler, was found stabbed to death.

"I found out that Tyler, 8-year-old little Tyler, was hiding upstairs in the closet and the two boys [the killers], Charlie and Charles, took turns stabbing him to death," Caffey said. "The hardest thing [was] to hear that. I remember when I heard that, I just couldn't believe that's how they did [it], and it goes back to that guilt and I felt I should have been able to save them and I couldn't."

With gunshot wounds all over his upper body, including one in his face, Caffey miraculously was able to crawl to a neighbor's house. He said authorities later told him it took him about an hour to crawl the length of four football fields that night, but he had seen a killer's face and it was someone he knew.

Caffey said his 16-year-old daughter Erin's boyfriend, Charlie Wilkinson, then 19, was one of the men who was in his house the night his family was killed. While being treated at the hospital, Caffey said he had given up hope and wanted to die, until he received word that Erin was still alive.

"Then I had something to live for, I had some hope, so I began to fight," he said. "But that hope would be short-lived because just within a half an hour of finding out she was alive, my sister came to me and told me [Erin] had been arrested and had been charged with murder."

The police had arrested Erin for plotting the murders of her family. Wilkinson and two other men, Charles Wade and Bobbi Johnson, then age 20 and 18 respectively, were also arrested.

"I remember rising up from my hospital bed and just screaming out, 'no it can't be, no it's not Erin, not Erin,'" Caffey said.

But why? The answer was as simple and as complex as first love. Caffey and his wife believed Charlie, Erin's first boyfriend, was bad for her. Two nights before the murders, they had forbidden her to see him again.

"I was very angry," Caffey said of the murders. "Not only was I angry at God but I was angry at my daughter. I was angry at these two young men, the other young lady that drove the getaway car. I was just angry. I wanted them to die. I wanted them to pay, especially those two boys. I wanted them to pay for what they did."

But Caffey said God showed him another way to deal with his grief. Not only did Caffey forgive them all, including his daughter, but he asked them to be spared from the death penalty when the case went to trial. The judge agreed.

"I have met people that have gone through a lot less than what I have and they've grown into bitter, angry people, and that's not who I am, and I saw myself becoming that," Caffey said. "I knew that's not what I wanted to do. I didn't want to grow into a bitter, angry old man. I'm here. I'm still here. Now what can I do with this. And that's when I decided to -- it's time to move on. It's time to forgive. It's time to enjoy life again. Life does go on."

"When you hold on to that un-forgiveness or that bitterness, it's like that person still has a part of you," he continued. "They own you. And you relive it over and over. And it wasn't until I was able to forgive that I began to experience peace and happiness again."

Erin Caffey was convicted of three counts of capital murder and will not be eligible for parole until she is 59 years old. Her father, who now visits her in prison, will be in his 80s by the time she gets out.

"My prayer is that I'll live long enough. I want to go. I want to get Erin. I want us to walk away, arm in arm, and never look back," Caffey said.

Wilkinson and his two accomplices, Charles Wade and Bobbi Johnson, were convicted of the same charges.

Caffey said he has talked to his daughter about what happened the night of the murders and he said Erin is "very remorseful," but claims she did not initially plot to kill her family.

"She's always started that Charlie was the first one to initiate the conversation, 'We've got to take your family,' Caffey said. "And even though she didn't actually come in and commit the crime, she knows her responsibility that she could have stopped it and she didn't."

Prosecutors believe Erin plotted the crime, but her father can't bring himself to believe that. Too much has been lost already, it seems, for him to give that up as well.

Caffey broke down in tears at the thought of knowing he will never get the chance to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day or see her have children.

"You know that's any daddy's dream to walk their little girl down the aisle and hand them off and them giving you grand babies and that's hard, and that is so hard," he said.

Caffey has remarried and lives in Wills Point, Texas with his wife and two stepsons. He now travels the country preaching what he has become good at, forgiveness.

For more information about Terry Caffey, visit his website:

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