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Arsonist's Parents Receive A Different Kind of Sentence

Jarrod Anderson


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In the summer of 1992, an arsonist began setting fires across Washington State. For 6 months, more than 120 buildings were destroyed, leading to 3 deaths and over 17 million dollars in property damage. Authorities asked the public for help finding the arsonist. They remember it well.

George remembers, “The first thing that captured my attention were the-the three pencil sketches. And I looked and I said, ‘That looks like my son Paul.’ And my heart just stopped!”

Margaret remembers, “Paul, you don't have a clue what you've done.”

As Christians, George and Margaret knew what they had to do.

George says, “No loving father is going to want to even believe that his child is capable of crimes, much less something that is so horrendous. But this is the truth, the Lord gave me the strength at that moment to go and contact the arson task force, which I did.”

Paul was arrested, pled guilty, and was sentenced to 99 years in prison without parole. For George and Margaret, it became the beginning of a different kind of sentence.

George says, “I would think giving up your son, which was real, would merit support instead of abandonment. But then the first person that left us, was our pastor at the time.”

Margaret says, “Everybody just walked away and I still don't get that.”

For the next 3 years, George and Margaret plummeted into financial despair when their marketing business collapsed.

George says, “All my business clients just went away and I began to just sink. We lost the home, we lost our savings, ending up on welfare, going through bankruptcy and devastation, all the while knowing that we did what was right.”

They also struggled emotionally.

George says, “I felt like a dark depression just settling down. The kind that's debilitating.”

Margaret says, “Depression, severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress, all those things were going on. I was just a wreck cause it was – it was hell. And I did ask the Lord many times to take me home. ‘Please Lord, I-I – this is enough.  Take me!’”

For a time, they got help through Christian counseling and prescription medication, but it wasn’t enough. So the they continued to pray, and clung to their faith.

George remembers, “In the middle of the darkness my anchor of faith in the Lord Jesus held. I was being strengthened to just live another day and another day and another day.”

Margaret remembers, “My prayer was, ‘Lord, I don't know if you're going to bring me out of this or not, but if I’m ever well from this and you could ever use this to just help one person, then as much as I don't want to, I'm willing to stay.’"

One morning, Margaret woke up feeling different.

Margaret says, "The depression's gone. The anxiety is gone; the feeling of being so traumatized is gone. All those conditions that I had had were replaced with total joy and I had such a freedom. And it was a healing, it was a gift from the Lord.”

George says, “I reached a tipping point when I was able to look in the mirror and said, ‘I'm not depressed anymore.’ And that was very significant to me. And since then, I have not experienced what I would call being a depressed person.”

Overtime, they stabilized financially and also found community with people who welcomed them with open arms.

George says, “Christian folks who I have met through the years, who are more loving and tender than any family that I could ever know. Standing – with us in prayer all this way.”

Today, Paul continues to serve his sentence. While George and Margaret run their own ministry and share their story of overcoming grief everywhere they go.

Margaret says, “I believe I love Jesus more through all this.”

George says, “Jesus said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you,’ He did not lie. When you say, ‘Jesus, here I am’ it is enough.  He loved you so much he is going to bring you through.”

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About The Author


Jarrod Anderson is an award-winning writer, director, and producer for CBN Films. He has worked on dozens of films and documentaries that have garnered widespread acclaim, including "Pocahontas: Dove of Peace" which received two Emmy nominations. When he is not working on a story that he is passionate about, you'll find him spending time outdoors with his wife and daughter.