Commentary: Out of tragedy comes an Oasis

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

With Friday's sentencing of Michael Hernandez to life plus 30 years in prison for the 2004 murder of 14-year-old Jaime Gough, a chapter is closed on a horrible, sad crime. It isn't the last chapter in this story, but it may bring some peace to Jaime's family. For the Hernandez family, this is the beginning of a lifelong vigil for their imprisoned son, who was 14 when he murdered Jaime and is now 18. There are no happy endings for anyone involved in this tragedy.

The case has had unusual aspects from the start. Hernandez lured Jaime into a bathroom stall at Southwood Middle School and stabbed him to death as part of a scheme that included killing his older sister and another Southwood student. On the same day he calmly confessed to police. Suddenly, two families were cast into separate hells. Maria and Jorge Gough had to cope with the shocking murder of their only son. Kathy and Manny Hernandez struggled to understand how their 14-year-old son, their only son, could kill a fellow student.

Out of this struggle the Goughs, after an extremely rough patch, have developed the strength to help other families with plights like theirs. They began Oasis, a bereavement group for parents who have lost children. Oasis celebrated its first anniversary on May 1. When Hernandez was sentenced last week, the Goughs separately spoke directly to him. After expressing their grief and anger at what he took away from them they each said that they forgave him. That is a remarkably generous gift from two people who will never stop mourning their child.

For the Hernandezes, the struggle to deal with the bleak future that lies ahead for their son will likely last his lifetime. Psychologists for the prosecution and defense disagreed as to how mentally disturbed Hernandez was when he killed Jaime. The jury decided that he was not insane at the time of the murder. Clearly, though, he was disturbed. He had developed compulsive behaviors and his diary outlined a plot to kill Jaime and others. He has never expressed remorse. It's a lot for his parents to live with. Let us hope he receives treatment in prison.

The other unusual outcome is how the Goughs and Hernandezes have responded to each other – with understanding and sympathy. They acknowledged that their two families have been devastated and many hearts are forever broken over such a senseless murder. During the sentencing hearing, the Hernandezes apologized to the Goughs. In turn, the Goughs recognize the pain the Hernandezes will continue to experience. No happy endings, no great solace. Only a tragedy beyond understanding being grappled with by ordinary – but special – people.