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A mother forgives her son's killer and the two forge a friendship

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

This month, we've been marking 20 years of StoryCorps, sharing classic conversations with updates. And today, we catch up with an extraordinary mother.

MARY JOHNSON-ROY: My name is Mary Johnson. And we're in Minneapolis, Minn.

MCCAMMON: That was 2011 when Mary sat down with Oshea Israel. As a teenager, Oshea got into a fight with Mary's son and killed him. After he served a prison sentence for murder, they had this conversation.

JOHNSON-ROY: You and I met at Stillwater Prison. I wanted to know if you were in the same mindset of what I remember from court, where I wanted to go over and hurt you. But you were not that 16-year-old, you were a grown man. I shared with you about my son.

OSHEA ISRAEL: And he became human to me. You know, when I met you, it was like, OK, this guy is real. And then when it was time to go, you broke down and started shedding tears. And the initial thing to do was just try to hold you up as best I can, just hug you like I would my own mother.

JOHNSON-ROY: And I begin to say, I just hugged the man that murdered my son. And I instantly knew that all that anger and the animosity, all the stuff I had in my heart for 12 years for you, I knew it was over, that I had totally forgiven you.

ISRAEL: As far as receiving forgiveness from you, sometimes I still don't know how to take it because I haven't totally forgiven myself yet. It's still a process that I'm going through.

JOHNSON-ROY: I treat you as I would treat my son. And our relationship is beyond belief. We live next door to one another.

ISRAEL: Yeah, we actually bump into each other all the time leaving in and out of the house. And our conversations, they come from, boy, how come you ain't called over here to check on me in a couple days?

(LAUGHTER)

ISRAEL: You ain't even asked me if I need my garbage to go out. I find those things funny because it's a relationship with a mother for real.

JOHNSON-ROY: Well, my natural son is no longer here. I didn't see him graduate. Now you're going to college. I'll have the opportunity to see you graduate. I didn't see him getting married. Hopefully, one day, I'll be able to experience that with you.

ISRAEL: You still believe in me. And the fact that you can do it despite how much pain I caused you, it's amazing. I love you, lady.

JOHNSON-ROY: I love you, too, son.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISRAEL: Well, Mary, it's been 12 years since we sat down for our first StoryCorps interview, and a lot has changed. I myself have two children. My son, he's 3. And the little girl...

JOHNSON-ROY: She's how old now?

ISRAEL: She's 6 years old now. I remember, when she was born, you helped me get the car seat for her. But since we were living next door to each other, you left me for another fella. His name is Ed.

(LAUGHTER)

ISRAEL: I remember when I first got wind of you and Ed going out on dates. And I'm like, wait, what's going on? You is mine.

(LAUGHTER)

ISRAEL: But you all blessed me with the opportunity to not only be present in the wedding, but to walk you down the aisle. That was, like, again, your words, beyond belief.

JOHNSON-ROY: Yeah.

ISRAEL: This has been an amazing journey from a hug to you being a grandmother through me with my kids, to you just being a beacon of light to a lot of people. On our last interview, we ended it with me saying I love you, lady. And I still feel the same way.

MCCAMMON: Mary has spent decades helping other families who've lost children to gun violence. But in 2021, she was diagnosed with dementia. Her husband, Ed Roy, has been her main caretaker. Ed also had a son who was murdered. In fact, that's how he and Mary met. They recently spoke about Mary's illness.

ED ROY: There was a lot of things that neither one of us didn't understand - leaving something on the stove, parking your car a few houses down the street. And as it progressed, you started seeing things, the invisible people. And we talked about it, honey, you know? What do we do? We made humor out of them. We called them the little people.

(LAUGHTER)

ROY: So just like when you had several bowls of cereal out, you was feeding them. And I said, look, now, you giving all of my Cap'n Crunch to the little people, what about me? (Laughter) And you started laughing. Yeah, and so, we have so many moments.

JOHNSON-ROY: Yeah, I need to write them down.

ROY: They are written down. They're written down in our hearts, honey. Sometimes I think about when people say that a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

JOHNSON-ROY: To waste, yeah.

ROY: But you know what? The heart is the terrible thing to waste.

JOHNSON-ROY: How many men would do the things that you do as far as taking care of me, like putting on my shoes today?

ROY: Well, that's what it's all about. Don't think about just the memory things. We're here to remember for each other. Don't worry about the reading because I'm here and read to you.

JOHNSON-ROY: Yeah.

ROY: You know, it's about us taking care of one another. You've given me, Mary, a reason for living. I always tell you that, though. You're my angel, so it's true. It's true what they say about - when they say wait on God, that He will send you that person. You know, He knew what was in my heart.

JOHNSON-ROY: Wow. I love you.

ROY: I love you.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAMMON: That's Ed Roy with his wife, Mary Johnson-Roy. All of Mary's conversations are archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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