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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

He Turned the Other Cheek

April 14, 2002

Peter Biehl's accomplishments during the past decade would have made his daughter Amy proud. The one-time Orange County resident astounded many people and infuriated others by forgiving and eventually embracing four South African men who stoned, stabbed and beat his daughter to death.

Biehl, who died recently at age 59 from complications associated with colon cancer, gracefully managed his unlikely transformation from food-marketing executive to an international symbol of the power of forgiveness. He also seemed able to balance the desire to serve his daughter's legacy against the needs of remaining family members. Proof that he succeeded was evident in daughter Kim's recent description of her father as an "awesome" person.

Linda, Biehl's childhood sweetheart and wife of 38 years, said that Amy's death "brought out who he truly was." His evolution meant trading easy weekends in Palm Springs for long weeks spent in some of South Africa's poorest neighborhoods. The family established a foundation to try to catch youths before they fell into the hopeless spiral that led to his daughter's murder in 1993.

Biehl often spoke to religious groups about his journey. His message provided a thought-provoking contrast to the line of aching family members who understandably demand justice in the name of their murdered loved ones. Biehl, who talked ceaselessly of forgiveness, spent his final years trying to change the social conditions that produced the four men found guilty of murdering his child. The foundation eventually hired two of Amy Biehl's killers.

Biehl's highly publicized act of forgiveness upset some people. An irate Southern Californian castigated Biehl's embracing of the men who murdered his daughter as "hideous" because it seemed to offer an excuse for murder. Another found Biehl's reasoning "as reprehensible as it is incomprehensible."

Biehl, though, seemed happy to live by a phrase common among South Africans. "Out of the ruins, good will come." Biehl and his wife became known as tamkhulu and makhulu: the Lesotho words for "grandfather" and "grandmother." Biehl carried the added weight of that honorary family with grace and honor.

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