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How This Dad Turned His Son’s Murder into a Helping Force for Troubled Youths

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When tragedy hit on January 5, 2008, Riccardo Harris was not only a local church pastor but he was also a teacher and an assistant coach for the high school basketball team. After a nail biting double overtime basketball game his team had just won the state championship. The energy and excitement surrounding them that evening was incredible, but within minutes, that exhilaration shifted to immeasurable grief and an indescribable sorrow.

Riccardo was the father of three, 14 and 15 year old daughters and a 19 year old son, Robert. Just after the game, on his way to celebrate with the team, Riccardo received a call from one of his players. The young man said, “Coach, Robert has been shot. You need to come to the hospital right away.” In disbelief, Riccardo raced to the hospital hoping that it was simply a minor injury, praying that it wasn’t even Robert and that someone had gotten it wrong. Not long after he arrived he was told that Robert had succumbed to his injuries and that he had died.

Ricardo SonHis son, Robert, was an amazing young man. Robert was an artist and an athlete and his comedic, humble outlook on life was refreshingly infectious. That night, he was driving from the stadium with three of his friends. While at a stoplight, a car with three young gang members pulled beside them. The gang members followed Robert’s car on a turn and began to open fire, shooting Robert. In the ambulance, less than a block away from the hospital, Robert died. The shooter later claimed that he felt that Robert “looked at him wrong”.

Because of the eye witness accounts of Robert’s friends, the perpetrators were caught within thirty minutes. “Robert was not in a gang, nor did he associate himself with gang members”, Riccardo Harris stated in his book about this, “Misery to Motivation”.

As to be expected, Riccardo was plagued with numerous emotions. He felt that he had failed as a father. He felt helpless as a husband, and even after being in the ministry for over 15 years, he began to question his faith as a Christian. Riccardo says that his healing and his restoration only began after he truly forgave the young man who murdered his son for his senseless actions that evening.

Determined and driven to not allow his son’s death to be in vain, Riccardo searched for purpose. He is known and respected within his community and possesses a great sense of “voice”. When he speaks people listen, his words and his truth resonate, and there, within this platform, his ultimate healing truly started. He began to write.He wrote about his loss. He wrote about his insecurities. He wrote about his journey to acceptance of this tragedy. In 2012 Riccardo published his book, “Misery to Motivation”. In his book, among other things, he spoke of the importance of respecting yourself and others, taking responsibility for your words and actions, and the significance of being resilient.

Today, Riccardo travels the country sharing his story through his motivational speaking seminars geared primarily towards impressionable youth. Within his Ricardo Podiumseminars he poses what he refers to as “The Character Challenge”, in which the audience members absorb the steps and make a conscious decision to agree to strive to be respectful, be responsible, and be resilient. A quote from his book states, “It is a sad commentary when people feel like they are invisible. Often times this feeling of invisibility will cause people to do things so that they can be seen“.

Riccardo’s every hope, his lifelong mission now, is to reach, inspire, and motivate as many lives as possible. He asserts that the more that young people can realize their worth and attain a measure of self-confidence and self-respect, the less likely a family is to lose another brother or sister, another niece or nephew, another daughter, or another son.

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3 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Kassy – Texas said:

    I was surprised and impressed by the victim’s father, Riccardo, and how he chose to openly speak to people about this incident and find a way to help himself heal while helping others who may be struggling with similar situations or simply need to hear that they’re not alone. Although I’m not a parent nor religious, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for Coach Riccardo to have lost his son and also battle with so many emotions which led him to question his Christianity, as he mentioned. I understand how death can change a person one way or another, but Robert’s father really knew how to honor his son in a way that would help others as well.

  • Melody – California said:

    The story itself is captivating and highly emotional, but I did not feel that the writer captured the raw trauma that the father must have been experiencing in order to channel it into motivational speaking. As a reader, I think this situation deserves rich, heart-tugging language that puts the reader in the father’s shoes. The story is excellent, however, and has the happiest possible ending for such a horrible circumstance.

  • Bridget - Toronto Canada said:

    It is inspiring to read how Riccardo Harris turned his tragedy into an important mission to change the world. It gives us all hope that we can overcome our sorrows and make a difference for someone else. Thank you.

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