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."


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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