In November 1993 I was 31 years old, an over-the-moon happy new mom and a very busy crime and court reporter.
So the day that I picked up the police affidavit that described in excruciating detail how Tonia Kigas Porter had methodically starved to death her 5-year-old daughter, Tavielle, over a period of a month I began to question my chosen career, my faith in humanity and above all my faith in a good and gracious God.
I was as conflicted as I had ever been, I found myself crying at any time of the day and night with grief for that little girl, and I was more than just a little angry.
I called Bob Carlson and we met in a conference room in the newsroom.
How can you expect me to believe that a good and kind God would have allowed this? What kind of God would have allowed that little girl to suffer at the hands of the mother she surely loved?
He talked to me about free will and faith and he hugged me in that huge, big way that only he had and I went home and got up the next day and continued to cover that very awful story.
That little girl didn’t have a lot of connections and Bob stepped up, as he had done many times, and led a graveside service at a little cemetery in Veazie and had to come up with words that would somehow offer comfort to Tavielle’s family, her teachers and to an entire community.
“What has happened is not OK. … What has happened touches each one of us and we are connected. … We cannot change the reality of the events of this past week, those events are not OK, but what is OK is that God’s love sustains us.”
In 2000 when my 20-year-old-niece was in a terrible car crash and was on a ventilator at Eastern Maine Medical Center, Bob came. He sat with me and my family as we had the very awful discussions about brain function and organ donation.
My children were small. They were 4 and 7 years old and just the day before had lain on the floor at my mother’s home and played Candy Land with her.
I called him.
“I cannot tell them that Jenni is dead,” I said. “I don’t know how to do that.”
“I will be right there,” he said.
And he was and he rolled up a newspaper and he tore at that newspaper and he talked about a family tree and its trunk and its branches, and when I tucked my babies into bed that night I knew that despite the sadness they were assured that our family would be OK. That even though their grandmother and aunt and mom were terribly sad, we would be OK, and they believed that.
Two years later when my husband’s sister was murdered by her husband and we realized we were about to bring two other children into our home to raise, we were so scared and so sad and so unsure of ourselves and our abilities.
Bob was among the first people to show up on our doorstep. He didn’t offer exact answers. He offered hope and he reassured us that we were strong enough to be helpful to those children.
Last winter when my sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Bob walked into her room, hugged her, hugged us and made us feel that we, our family, were his first priority — and that we were strong enough to get through it.
He did that with families and individuals every single day.
And so now there is this.
My heart aches. My kids’ hearts ache. My husband’s heart aches.
There is no way to forgive his actions if the allegations against him are true.
Those are not forgivable things.
I know that.
And I’m very angry about his chosen way out. That leaves a whole lot of us with a level of uncertainty that seems selfish.
There are things that cannot be forgiven, but it is important that we also realize that there are incredible acts of grace that cannot be forgotten.