Edmonton

Forgiving words: Alberta woman chronicles nephew's swarming death

'You need to take power away from others and put that in your own hands'

Posted: January 24, 2017

A decade after her nephew was brutally beaten to death at a grad party near Stony Plain, Anita Lambert has forgiven his killers.

"You need to take power away from others and put that in your own hands and the only way to do that is to forgive," said Lambert, who has chronicled her experience in a new book.

'Forgiving Murder - The Voice of Reason: A True Story about the Devastation of Mob Violence' is a raw account of Lambert's struggle to heal.

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"I forgive the sinner, not the sin," Lambert said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"I forgive that person and I take pity on them, because they too are living under a cloak of darkness if they can do an act like that."

Eric Olsen, 20, was the victim of a frenzied swarming near Stony Plain on May 27, 2007. He was chased to the roof of an acreage home and beaten into a coma with golf clubs and a log before falling off the roof.

Olsen was beaten once more after falling to the ground, and was found unconscious hours later. He never regained consciousness. Four days after the attack he was taken off life support.

Eight young men were charged in connection with his death.

For years, Lambert harboured bitterness toward those responsible and lived under a shroud of depression.

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"Right after Eric was killed I went into a complete darkness," she said. "I was sad all the time and very, very angry. I didn't take joy out of the normal things in life.

"I was a very good actor so people didn't really know how upset or angry I really was."

But her husband knew the pain she was feeling, and encouraged Lambert to get help. It was a turning point. She took a long trip with her daughter, and began leaning on her Christian faith.

After reading the memoir of a Rwandan genocide survivor she began to realize that forgiveness, even in the worst of circumstances, was possible.

'It's very brutally honest' 

In 2009, Lambert's children encouraged her to start writing about the tragedy. She began with a personal blog, but the prospect of a book seemed daunting.

It wasn't until a chance meeting with Theo Fleury in 2015 that she began finding her voice. The retired NHL star put Lambert in touch with his publisher, a renowned writing coach who had helped him chronicle his experiences with childhood sexual abuse.

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Lambert said penning the book has allowed her to share the pain she kept hidden for so long, and unload some of that burden. It also helped her realize her nephew's death did not happen in a vacuum.

"This was a two-sided coin."said Lambert. "This was just not on all the defendants' side. And that's part of the book, it's very brutally honest. In order for it to be effective, I think I have to tell the whole story."

Even so, the writing process wasn't as cathartic as her ongoing work, counselling troubled youth.

'His death had to mean something'

Lambert is involved with victim services in Rocky Mountain House, her hometown. She also speaks to students across the region about her experience.

She hopes her story will help young people understand that their actions can have horrible consequences. She illustrates that by showing students the type of makeshift weapons used in the killing.

"When I discuss Eric's death with the kids, I'm extremely blunt and very graphic," she said.

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"I bring the type of weapons with me that were used to kill Eric, things like fence posts, golf clubs and baseball bats, and that's very shocking for the kids to see that people would actually use that on someone.

"I talk to them about the effects of drugs and alcohol and then you mix that with anger, it's unbelievable, but a death can ensue."

Lambert's work with students and the new memoir fulfil a promise she made to Eric before his heart finally stopped, 90 hours after he was taken off life support.

"There were times of quiet when there weren't other people in the room and I would sit with him, I would talk with him," said Lambert. "And I told him his death had to mean something, there had to be something good to come out of this because otherwise it's just a disgusting tragedy.

"I had to give it a meaning for him and this is where that has led me."

With files from Rod Kurtz