Unlikely Friends

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

It's an incredible story — Unabomber victim Gary Wright and Ted Kaczynski's* brother, Dave, are the best of friends. Somehow, in spite of the fact that Ted nearly killed Gary, he's filled with nothing but forgiveness, and Dave sees Gary as family:

Gary and I are 'blood brothers' in a literal sense. Our bond forged through violence is as powerful and as deep as any genetic bond. ... I find a poetic balance in having gained a new brother in Gary.

Their story defies logic, and they join us today... Most of us are fortunate enough not to have sustained such tragedy, but do you have any unlikely allies?

*Don't miss our gallery of the inside of the Unabomber's cabin, on display at the Newseum.

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My husband, Robert Rippey, was Ted's high school science teacher. I think you might find it interesting since you're broadcasting from the Newseum to hear of the way the press pursued this story with my husband when it was revealed who the Unibomber was and that my husband had been his teacher.

I heard this story at about 7 AM on NPR on the morning that it broke and told my husband what I'd heard. He was, of course, shocked and saddened by the news. By noon that day, Time Mag, NYT, Chicago Trib and any number of other news outlets had determined that Robert had taught Ted. I was impressed with how quickly this link had been made by the press. What was more disturbing, however, was listening to Robert's side of these phone calls. Robert's side of the calls when something like this: "No, he was not an obviously disturbed kid. No, he was not a loner in high school. No, he was not without friends. He was involved in several high school clubs. He was a memorably good kid and a fabulous student." It was obvious that the press wasn't calling to find out how my husband actually had experienced Ted, but to try to get quotes to confirm stereotypes and sensational details. My husband had always said that Ted K. was the most interesting and brilliant student he ever had ..... which said a lot since my husband went from high school teaching to university teaching at Chicago and then on to teaching medical and dental students. He was very discouraged and disturbed at the way the press resisted hearing that, at least in high school, Ted was a good kid, from a good family and that he had great potential until he became mentally ill.

Robert was contacted by both the FBI and Ted's defense team in their attempts to try to sort out this sad story. Unlike the press, both the FBI and the defense seemed to want to know what Ted was really like before he was ill. Robert died two years ago and never lost his respect for the mind that Ted was born with or his affection for Ted K. as his high school student.

Sincerely,

Phyllis Farley Rippey

Sent by Phyllis Farley Rippey | 3:36 PM | 6-25-2008

My father was murdered when I was 9 and my brother was 11. Just to give you an idea he was so brutally mutilated that they couldn't even tell how many times he was stabbed. His murders were caught and one was sentenced to life and the other life without parole.

You bet I fight for this murder to stay in prison every time the one that comes up for a parole hearing. This murderer plea for release on the premise that he should not be locked up and deprive his own child of their father. Well guess what; he doesn't deserve anything. What about the fact that my brother and I were deprived my father altogether? He didn't see me graduate HS, college and didn't get to give me away at my wedding. My father's murderer should be happy he is even alive and knows what his child is even doing.

I would have preferred them to be sentenced to death especially with how heinous the crime was. I'm sorry for the families of the perpetrators but this is a crime which harshest consequences should be given. If you take a life what right do you have to live when there is an apparent disregard for human life.

Sent by Venessa Shreve | 3:53 PM | 6-25-2008

How could I possibly forgive a man that killed my brother and destroyed my life. I have been left with dealing with the fallout, distraught parents and 4 young children that cannot remember their dad. The loss was devastating,leading to fearing my own early demise. I now have an unrealistic fear of dying young leaving my own children behind as did my brother. Forgiveness is not in this picture, it is more like learing to live in this new world.

Sent by Angie | 3:57 PM | 6-25-2008

Ten years ago I was beaten and raped by a stranger while on a solo backpacking trip. I believe I forgave him (the person, not the crime) while we were speaking after the crime. He told me his story and while it didn't help explain why he had done what he did to me, I realized that my life before and after this event was so much better than his. He seemed trapped, injured, and confused by his life. However, I feel that the sympathy I had for this individual actually stood in the way of my own recovery from post traumatic stress because I found it very hard to work through the anger stage of grieving for the emotional losses I had incurred. It was a revelation for me today to hear the idea that forgiveness might be redefined as learning to love the changed person one has become.
I also was very touched by the strong bond between "brothers" and the way they allowed their own humanity to be enhanced through the sharing of a personal tragedy.
****

Sent by Lynne | 5:30 PM | 6-25-2008

My father was killed on his bicycle by a hit and run 17 year old. I was successful in forgiving this man, but not in holding him accountable for his actions. I didn't feel like it was my responsibility to be involved with his punishment. The D. A.'s office understood that our family did not want there to be any needless retribution against this man so he was not tried as an adult. Two years later he was back out driving again and struck and killed two more cyclists. The family's of these new victims not only have to learn to live with life without these two men, but they have to deal with the thought that their tragedy is the unintended consequence of our forgiveness.

Sent by Wilson McDuff | 12:27 PM | 6-27-2008

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