That is a question that I cannot answer. But it is a question that many people in our town can answer, and this post is for them.
The truth is a simple thing. Funny how it is always the simplest things that make life complicated.
I know many truths about the Fairbanks Four. Lots of small ones, and some big ones.
The way that Marvin loves his mother and sister as if there was only ever them on the Earth, how when he speaks about them every aspect of him softens.
I know Eugene’s easy laughter – so genuine and enthusiastic that it can brighten any day.
I have seen the depths of grief Kevin reached when he lost his mother, the piece of her that will always linger with him.
I know, for example, the way that George’s eyes light up for a split second before he cracks a joke, the sadness that flickers there when he hugs his daughter goodbye.
I know that one night, in what has come to feel like a time very long ago and far away, these four spent a snowy night in the company of friends. I know where each of them were the moment that a boy none of them had ever seen lay dying, the last of him ebbing out of this cold world. I know the names of the girls Marvin danced with at a wedding reception with hundreds of guests as that boy died. I know faces of the boys, now men, that walked drinking and laughing against the cold alongside George on the snow-packed sidewalk at that moment. I know the license plate number of the borrowed mini van that Kevin and Eugene rode in; the corners and turns and pot holes that they passed over in those fateful minutes.
I know, I think, more than I ever wanted to about these four men. I wish that they could have aged with the rest of us out of the October night and into adulthood. Into the time in life when children clamber at your feet, and the bills are barely paid, and you share meals with people you love more often than you appreciate. The age when you come home tired every night, and the passage of time begins to show itself white at your temples and in creases around your eyes. When your years number into a trinity of decades and you begin to accept the rhythm of the every day. The rise, the fall. Still young enough that you mostly fail to be grateful for the endless tiny blessings, yet live your life so surrounded by them. An age where restlessness fades and who you were as a teenager on some October night long ago is nearly forgotten. When the names and faces of the girls you danced with then are blurred, like a photo taken in dim light from too far away. Because if they had not been interrupted there, in that early hour of life, the details of their movements on October 10th of 1997 would not matter. They would have been forgotten. Probably, that they ever corresponded to a time when a boy much like them lost his life would be unknown. These details, minutes, names, faces, temperatures, routes, guest lists……they would be absorbed into the anonymity of long ago, where they belong.
But, it didn’t happen that way, so here in my mind, and in these pages, are many small truths which all add up to one large truth. A truth that must be borne by any who possess it: Marvin, Eugene, Kevin, and George are innocent men, wrongfully imprisoned. Unfairly interrupted. I know that much is true. More importantly, I want you to understand that I wish I didn’t know. Partly because I wish it wasn’t true at all, and partly because it is a burden. Because to hold that truth means I will be held responsible for what I did with it, and because doing what I know is right is both exhausting and scary. But I, and so many others, are doing our best with the truths we have, which is what gives us the right to ask the same.
For all the things that I know about the boys who were convicted of killing him, there is little that I know about the 1997 murder of John Hartman. That is not my truth to carry. But it is someone’s.
There are people who know the details of that killing because the moment that boy began to die they were becoming something else, too – murderers. And more likely than not, those truths are ones they wish so badly to cast off of themselves that they will never speak them aloud and accept judgement. We foolishly fear things in the places they are most harmless – to fear judgement here on Earth is like fearing shark attack in a hotel pool. Life is like that. The truth is like that.
But there are others. There are people among us who know the names and the faces of the men who killed John Hartman. There are people who know the truth about those men, and the truth about how they killed that boy. And I bet they wish they didn’t know. I imagine they wish that they had never heard the details, heard the rumor, seen the faces. But we often are born for burdens that we would never wish for, and that truth is in their possession because it has to be. Is meant to be.
The truth that they hold could set these four innocent men free and being the peace to dead boy’s family that they deserve. The silence that they choose is the prison in which these men live.
The opposite of love is too often considered to be hate. But I have heard it said, and believe completely, that the opposite of love is apathy.
Likewise, the greatest enemy of the truth is not a lie. It’s silence.
All great men begin simply as the bearers of a truth that overwhelms them. A truth that feels like a burden. They become heroes when they listen, and understand that to hold the truth is already a form of greatness. A test. In silence, many transform that greatness into a great evil. In courage, with the wisdom to bear witness to the truth they hold, some become heroes.
I wish I could choose for you – for those of you that know the truth about who killed John Hartman. I wish I could implore you, trick you, cut away your story and steal your truth because I believe myself to be more capable of using it wisely. Yet the universe believes otherwise. I know, and you do too, that is not how life is. I hold my truth, and you hold yours, and that is one of those simple things we all know about life.
I say to you, and only because I am certain that I have earned the right, do what you were sent for. Become what you were born for. Be worthy of the burden you carry. It will not be easy. It may not be safe. It may cost you all and earn you nothing.
Do it anyways.
The reward is now over $35,000 for information leading to the exoneration of the Fairbanks Four. You can call in to (907) 279-0454 with any information.