The weeks of media coverage and intense scrutiny of John T. Williams' killing have continually disturbed his spirit, his mother says. As long as his name is spoken, his spirit can't rest.
As jurors weigh testimony about the shooting of her son, Ida Edward knows this: She just wants it to be over.
“I want him to be left alone now,” Edward, 75, said of John T. Williams.
For Williams’ mother, the weeks of media coverage and seven days of intense scrutiny of the shooting have continually disturbed the spirit of her son, a member of the Ditidaht Tribe, part of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. In their culture, the name of the deceased is not to be spoken for at least one year — in some families and tribes it is as long as five — until a traditional memorial is held. To use the name before then is to disturb those who have gone to the other side.
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“He has passed on, and his name is still up here, and he is trying to find somebody that will speak up for him, and say his name doesn’t want to be mentioned any more,” Edward said, speaking by phone from Vancouver, B.C.
She said her own feelings today about the killing are mixed: She wants to forgive, but she also wants to see punishment for Seattle police Officer Ian Birk, the man she believes unjustifiably killed her son. “I don’t want to be higher than the Lord, if the Lord can forgive him, I should forgive him too,” Edward said.
“But I don’t want any more innocent people shot.”
John Williams’ oldest brother, Harvey, said he has worked hard to overcome his anger, since returning home to Vancouver after burying his brother last September in Seattle. “Please let Officer Birk know I forgive him,” Harvey Williams said by phone about the police officer who shot his brother. “If I kept on the way I was feeling, it would not be long before I go back to drinking and being angry again, and I want to be happy.
“I have been sober for 19 years, and I won’t give that up for anyone or anything. So I have made my decision.”
Sister Nancy Williams left the inquest a day before it ended, returning to Vancouver because she couldn’t stand the tension any more. Like John Williams, all his surviving siblings carve — four sisters, and three brothers, including two in Seattle. John Williams is believed to have had a son, but so far he has not been located.
Nancy Williams said she carved in her hotel room every night after the inquest — and fiercely wished she could carve in the courtroom, to keep her hands busy.
For her, the most difficult part of the proceedings was listening to the testimony of the medical examiner. “It was ‘Mr. Williams’ and suddenly it was ‘the body,’ ” Nancy Williams said.
“I started crying five minutes later. I walked out; I couldn’t stand listening to him explaining the shots and the wounds. And then they put his heart up on the screen, and it was just too much, I felt like I was being crushed.
“Hearing the video tapes over and over again, hearing how my brother got shot down, it hurt majorly.”
She said she wasn’t surprised by Harvey’s decision. But it is too soon for her.
Rita Williams, John’s sister in Duncan, B.C., says she has watched over and over the videotape of her brother taken from Birk’s squad car camera — just so she can see her brother again. She feels no urge to forgive.
“I don’t think I could ever forgive him,” she said.
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org