A debut memoirist shares the devastating loss of her three children and her journey of healing and forgiveness.
The first time she met John Ritzert, the author thought he was “weird.” But she ignored her first impression and they began dating. Eventually, they married and had two children—Jarod William and Brandi Marie—and Ritzert adopted James’ son from a previous marriage, Sean Michael Tilk. For a while, they were happy, but Ritzert often worked out of town as a bricklayer. As they grew apart, he refused counseling, and when his behavior began to deteriorate, James insisted on a divorce. At first, the split was amicable. She dismissed his occasionally erratic actions, but as he became more emotional and violent, she started to fear him. Early one July morning, on a day he was scheduled to pick up the children for the weekend, James woke to the sound of shattered glass. Ritzert had broken in, brandishing a shotgun and a sinister expression (“He was not on drugs or alcohol. He was full of evil. It was in his eyes”). She watched in horror as he shot their youngest child, Brandi. Discovering the phone lines had been cut, James ran to a neighbor’s house to call for help. By the time the local police, unaccustomed to dealing with SWAT situations, entered her home, Ritzert had killed all three children and himself. With the help of family, friends, and counseling, James survived the next few years, producing this memoir as part of her healing process. She then put it away, publishing it nearly two decades after her children’s deaths. Despite the painful subject, the book is engrossing, seeming more like a suspense novel than a memoir. Knowing the deadly outcome—which the author discloses in the preface—fails to make the incident any less shocking. James writes well, with her surprising ability to forgive Ritzert coming through in her lack of bitterness or self-recrimination. She glosses over some parts of the tale, such as Sean’s relationship with his biological father and his reaction to his son’s murder. While it’s not the focus of the work, the insider view of how the media intrude in times of tragedy is one of the author’s most poignant revelations. Despite the inherent sadness of the story, James manages to imbue it with hope.
An unforgettable account of one woman’s voyage after an unimaginable loss.