“See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” — Thessalonians 5:15
Some columns are harder to write than others.
In January 1992, then 12-year-old Shanda Sharer was lured from her Jeffersonville home by four teenage girls and was brutally and unmercifully tortured, burned alive and murdered. I won’t bother to go into the gruesome details, as it is easy to do an Internet search to read any of a number of published accounts.
I recently watched an interview that originated from television station WTHR in Indianapolis by reporter Anne Ryder that brought my wife and me to tears. We both knew Shanda Sharer. For us, it was not just another news story — then or now.
Melinda Loveless was a teenager when she committed her heinous acts. She was convicted and sentenced to spend 60 years in prison. A now-retired policeman recently characterized her to me as the most pure evil person with whom he had ever had a personal encounter.
In the television news story this past week, there was an update on Loveless. For the past seven years, she has been training assistance dogs in prison. In fact, a reporter said that Lovelace, “... has become one of the most trusted and competent trainers in the Indiana Canine Assistance Network (ICAN) program.”
The interview shows a now-adult woman who in no way resembles that person who once committed unspeakable acts. In itself, the story would be somewhat remarkable and certainly initiate interesting debate about crime, punishment and rehabilitation for the worst of human behaviors. What later transpired in the interview was to Kim and me incredible.
A dog trainer and former burn victim named Charlie Petrizzo convinced Shanda’s mother to watch a videotape. Shanda’s mother, Jacque Vaught, was shown films of Lovelace doing her work with animals that were being trained for various purposes to assist people in need.
Somehow, something in that video prompted Vaught to do something almost unimaginable. She made what for almost any of us who are parents a most incredible gesture. Jacque donated a dog in memory of Shanda to the ICAN program to be trained by her daughter’s killer, Melinda Lovelace.
Kim and I were left somewhat dumbfounded, momentarily speechless, and emotional from the interview. Vaught described her actions as what she simply saw as a way to honor Shanda’s memory and to somehow make something good come out something that was so tragically terrible.
I guess one thing that really struck me in the report was that Vaught has received some criticism for this act. I guess I understand the inability to accept or even I can understand a very human reaction to something so out of the ordinary. To overcome the absolute hate and bitterness to try and do some good for another in need simply is not what we might feel as the normal action of an anguished parent. Who knows what normal is for any parent who has suffered the unnatural event of a loss of a child? Obviously, some might even be cynical as to think that it’s for some kind of publicity or attention.
I will make the personal choice to not question any of her motives.
I always find myself perplexed by people who profess to trust their soul to a merciful God and live under the Judeo-Christian belief and yet who could make judgment of another and somehow criticize what could almost be textbook Biblical teachings. To somehow manage to come out not only somewhat sane but also to find something positive on the other end of such a tragic event is possibly the most amazing gesture of personal growth I will ever witness from someone I have known in my life. It certainly would not be what I would expect from the Vaught I knew 20 years ago.
I must add that nowhere did Vaught state that she totally forgave Lovelace and she reiterates that all she ever asked for was for those responsible to serve out their sentences that were imposed by the court.
I was able to pull up the video of the story on the WAVE news website by typing in Shanda Sharer on the site’s search engine. Each person who watches will probably come away from it with a strange mix of emotional responses. Some things simply defy explanation, total understanding and/or acceptance. Some things in life just are.
I will always remember Shanda as that innocent and beautiful little girl full of love and life that we were around back in her younger years; those of a few years before her death. From now on out, I will always remember this entire saga punctuated in the context of this act. It is one I am not sure of which I would ever be personally capable of performing.
I hope it will often remind me of what small trials by comparison that I have endured and how I dealt with them. This lesson should serve as one for anyone who believes in such ideas as redemption, salvation and practices what they profess when it comes to the value of a human life, any human life, and every human life. For me believing in moral principles has always been easy. Living them, in some cases, may seem at times all but impossible.
By the way, the name of that dog donated by Vaught as a tribute to Shanda’s life is Angel.
— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at email@example.com