The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


April 2, 2009

Craigslist killer gets life in prison; victim's family responds

The family of Katherine Ann Olson appeared on the TODAY Show this morning to talk about their daughter and sister, and comment on the life sentence of Michael John Anderson, the young man who killed her after luring her to his home via a Craigslist ad.
Olson’s father, Rolf, is pastor of Richfield Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, Minn. He and his wife, Nancy, and their other two children, Sarah Richter, 27, and Karl, 23, were interviewed by Meridith Vieira the day after the family and  supporters filled the courtroom for Anderson's trial. Anderson, 20, received a life sentence with no chance of parole.
Katherine Olson, 24, went to Anderson’s home in October of 2007 in response to an ad he placed as “Amy” for a baby sitter. According to police reports, when Olson arrived at the home, Anderson shot her in the back, bound her legs together, stuffed her in the trunk of her car and drove the car to a nearby park, where he abandoned it.
Her father told the TODAY Show audience that applying the concept of forgiveness to this personal tragedy is proving difficult.
“I preach, I teach the value of forgiveness. I live by it. I think forgiveness is a tool for healing relationships,” Olson told. “We have no relationship with Mr. Anderson, perhaps never will… so it’s kind of premature to talk about forgiving or attempting to reconcile with someone we’ve frankly never met.
“In the New Testament the word ‘forgive’ means to cut loose or release,” he continued. “That’s what we’re trying to do with Mr. Anderson and his influence on our family. He’s had such a negative power in our lives, that we’re attempting to cut that free, to let it go, to release it so we can get on with the vital, loving lives that we want.”
Sitting through Anderson’s six-day trial was grueling, but Nancy Olson had told TODAY last fall that she and her husband felt that attending the legal proceedings was their “last act of parenting” for their daughter.
“It put some closure on that aspect of our parenting with Katherine,” she said Thursday.
Katherine had recently graduated from St. Olaf’s College with a degree in theater and Latin studies. She loved Latin-American culture and had worked in a circus in Argentina. She had also lived in Turkey, working as a nanny in a job she found on the Internet. Her mother described her as Maria in “The Sound of Music,” calling her “kooky, brilliant, talented, loving, compassionate.”

Richter, said she can’t help feeling sorry for Anderson, described by defense attorneys as having Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism.     
“I guess I go back and forth about hating him and just feeling bad,” Richter told Vieira. “When you think about a 20-year-old kid who will now spend the rest of his life in jail, there’s nothing left for him. He’s going to be in jail until he’s 80. Imagine an 80-year-old man in jail having made a terrible mistake and at our expense. I hate to say it, but I do feel bad for him. I miss my sister terribly, but that was a pretty terrible move he made when he was just 18 or 19.”
The family is organizing a May 3 concert in Katherine's memory and has established a scholarship fund at St. Olafs to serve Latino immigrants.
Karl Olson said that the many friends who attended the trial with the family and the countless others who sent cards and prayers helped the family cope with their grief: “In the courtroom we had 45 people one day sitting with us and showing us their support, so that when we see gruesome images or hear gruesome accounts of the person we love, these people are absorbing some of that pain.”    
“Largely, it’s helped us to put some closure on this chapter,” Rolf Olson said. “We have found our lives to be out of our control for the last 17 months. At least now we have some sense of control each day and move forward. The grief is still there. We have no Katherine. But at least the legal process, over which we had very little influence, is now concluded.”

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