Sympathy for the Devil

When a murderer kills himself, should we mourn? Should we cheer?


On February 6, 2000, every student at Columbia University received an e-mail from the president, George Rupp. It informed members of the university community that Kathleen Roskot, a Columbia sophomore and star lacrosse player, had been found dead in her dorm that Saturday, her throat slit. The murderer, Thomas Nelford, was also dead. A former Columbia student, and Roskot's boyfriend, Nelford threw himself in front of an oncoming subway train at about the time Roskot's body was discovered.

In his e-mail, Rupp wrote: "We mourn the loss of Kathleen Roskot, a beloved daughter, sister, friend, teammate, and mentor, who in two brief years at the university set a standard of dedication, leadership, and caring for others that future generations of Columbians will strive to reach. This is a most difficult time for Kathleen's family and friends, and for thousands of other Columbians who have been profoundly touched by this tragedy." Then, Rupp added, "It is also a difficult time for the family and friends of Thomas Nelford who are struggling to cope with the events of this weekend."

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The awkward reference to Nelford's friends and family, buried in the third paragraph of Rupp's e-mail, indicates just how uncomfortable a position Rupp was in: he couldn't very well ignore Nelford entirely--after all, he was once a Columbia student, and he was dead. On the other hand, Rupp couldn't afford the same sympathies to a suicidal murderer as he offered to that murderer's innocent victim.

"Even a murderer's life is still a life. Because human beings were created in the image of God, the loss of any life is to be lamented."

 

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