Mary Johnson of Minneapolis went on a journey of forgiveness that brought her to see her son's killer as a fellow human.
Today, they are next-door neighbors, and she considers him a son, and she, his "spiritual mother."
Johnson and Oshea Israel shared their story at Westbridge Community Church's services Sunday morning at St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West.
Israel shot and killed Johnson's only son, Laramiun Byrd, 20, in 1993. Israel, who was 16 at the time of the crime, was tried as an adult and sentenced to 25-and-a-half years in prison in Stillwater.
Johnson, full of hatred, she said, worked through the grief to try to see Israel's humanity in the years to come.
She asked to meet him in prison more than 10 years into his sentence. That was the day she felt released from the hatred she had felt, and when the two hugged, she felt free, she said.
"I felt it leave me — all the hatred, all the bitterness, all the anger," she said to the crowd.
Johnson emphasized that it didn't happen quickly or easily. Years of prayer, faith and coming to terms with her loss were hard work she put in to the process of forgiveness.
For years, every time she thought of Isreael, she would pray for him — the same way she would pray for herself.
When Israel was released from prison in 2010, Johnson helped him to find a place to live. He didn't mind living next door to her, and neither did she.
They've been living next door to each other for the past two-and-a-half years.
"I mean, he's my spiritual son," she said. "I treat him like my son — I get on his case, like, 'You need to come take out my garbage, you should do this, you should do that
"And our relationship isn't always good-good — your relationship with your kids isn't always good-good, you know, they can work your nerve. But we have a pretty good relationship."
She told attendees at the St. Michael school that forgiveness is something you do for yourself, and not for the other person.
"That's all forgiveness is," she said. "It's for you to be free so you can do what it is you have been put here on this Earth to do — it's for you."
Israel is also working on forgiving himself.
Lead Pastor of Westbridge, Jeremiah Curran, interviewed Johnson at the services.
Curran said Johnson's determination to reach forgiveness was inspiring, alluding to the detail that Israel declined to meet Johnson at her first request, so she waited nine months— and asked again.
"A lot of people would have went, 'Well, I tried,' and walked away," Curran said. "The fact that they both kept moving on the path of healing and restoration is encouraging to me."
In the women's bathroom after the presentation, many women cried in response to the moving story.
"I think the impact of sharing a story like that is that it makes the forgiveness I have to do a lot less," said Pastor Chris Hickle of the message people took away from her story. "What I have to forgive for is nothing like what she's forgiven for. So if she should be able to forgive, so should I."
The event was part of the church's ongoing series on forgiveness.