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Steve Watt: Forgiving the Fugitive

By Amy Reid
The 700 Club It promised to be a slow day for Steve Watt, who had planned to spend the day catching up on paperwork at the station. Meanwhile, an armed man robbed a savings and loan in nearby Craig, Colorado.

At last report, he was spotted driving a red sports car along the Colorado/Wyoming border. Steve joined the search even though he wasn't wearing his bulletproof vest as he always did. It turned out to be the one day he would need it.

"I started south of Rock Springs and came across this little brown compact with Colorado plate. I decided I’d stop him and ask him if he’d seen this bank robber in the sports car that I’d been looking for," says Steve.

As it turned out, reports of the vehicle were wrong. And he had caught up with the fugitive.

"It all happened so fast," Steve says. "He slammed on his brakes. And his door pops open, so I hit the latch on my door, still trying to call in and he’s out of his car. Just a snap of your fingers, and he’s pointing a gun at my windshield, and he fired two bullets into the windshield. The first one came through the windshield and hit me in the left eye, and the second one ricocheted off the windshield. I threw myself over in the front seat to get out of the line of fire. And I’d kicked my door open. My door was open, and I reached down and grabbed for my radio mike to call in that I’d been shot." 

He continues, "And the second I finished that transmission, it felt like somebody hit me in the left lower back with a baseball bat and then stuck a hot rod through me. I looked towards the door, and the man was leaning into my car and he fired four bullets into my left lower back at point blank range."

The pain was staggering, but he managed to get out of his car. He opened fire as the felon's car pulled away.

"My first bullet hit the little metal bar in the headrest right in the center of the back of his head and ricocheted down and hit him in the left shoulder. It knocked him forward and to the right, which knocked him out of the way of the next five bullets which would’ve hit him the chest cavity and killed him. So my first bullet saved his life."

While Steve lay critically wounded and awaiting the ambulance, the shooter was captured in the desert.

"I was not a Christian at that point in my life. I’d grown up going to church for Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve services and that was about the extent of my upbringing. But it was funny — where does even a non-Christian turn to when they’re in trouble? I said a prayer, right at that point in time and the exact words of my prayer were, 'God, I don’t know if I’m going to die. If I do, take care of my wife, Marian. Please help me.' ”

Doctors were stunned that the trooper was still alive. The first bullet entered Steve's left eye, stopping the thickness of a piece of paper from his brain. The second ripped through his stomach, intestines, and liver. The third shot stopped in his spine, nearly severing his spinal cord. The fourth and fifth bullets tore through his abdomen. Three of the five wounds should have been fatal.

" When I woke up in the intensive care, they told me that my eye was gone, that the doctors had removed my eye. And I started hating the man who shot me right at that point in time. My hatred, my anger, my bitterness just grew more and more and more. It was like a cancer. It was just taking over. Every morning, I’d get up and look in the mirror to shave and this empty eye socket would be staring back at me. It was a constant reminder," Steve says.

Steve had constant nightmares, depression, and anxiety. Still, he felt compelled to go back to work, but it wasn't the same.

"I was afraid of the public, I was afraid to make traffic stops. I was afraid everyone that I stopped was going to shoot me.  It didn’t matter whether they were a man, woman or a teenager, I was afraid of them. And I hated the man who shot me, for doing this to my dream ... for taking my dream away from me, for taking away the job that I loved."

Steve began drinking and taking painkillers, which he kept from Marian.

"My wife had said before we got married that if I ever turned into an alcoholic she would divorce me, and I turned into an alcoholic. So I would get drunk to the point of passing out and then I would take all my beer cans across the street and put them in my neighbor’s garbage so my wife wouldn’t know how much I was drinking. I was taking lots of painkillers. I had terrible headaches."

Steve's depression deepened.

"One night when I was drunk, I took my service revolver and I stuck it in my mouth, and I was gonna kill myself and end the nightmares, end my hatred, my anger, and my bitterness right then. And I thought about my wife. I thought to myself you’ve already put her through so much -- how could you do this to her? I put the gun down and I never thought about shooting myself again."

Steve's struggle was far from over.

"One night right at dusk, I stopped this vehicle for speeding and the guy jumped out of his car. And it was just like the shooting all over again, and I saw that he had a gun in his hand. It was a .44 Mag with a 6-inch barrel, and it was huge.  I drew my revolver and I started to pull the trigger, and I focused on his hands and it wasn’t a gun, it was his billfold."

That night, Steve Watt's career as a state trooper was about to come to an end.

"His eyes were huge, and my eyes were huge. And I yelled at him to get back in his car and to slow down and just got into my car and thought, I almost killed a man that didn’t deserve to die. I almost killed him because he had a billfold in his hands. I drove straight to my sergeant’s house and I told him, 'I’m done.'  I told him what happened and I told him, 'I can kill someone who deserves to die, but I can’t kill someone that doesn’t. I could never live with that.'”

It had been less than a year since the shooting. Steve's wife, Marian, also a police officer, was a confirmed atheist. She began to wonder if maybe God exists after all.

"I wondered how it was possible for Steve to have suffered absolutely no brain damage at all from being shot in the eye.  No bone fragments penetrated his brain. One of the bullets went through his liver and missed a major blood vessel by a quarter of an inch. The doctor said if it had hit that blood vessel, Steve would’ve bled to death before anyone had gotten to him. One of the bullets hit him in the spine and stopped 1/16th of an inch from his spinal cord. I thought about that and I thought, there’s just not enough luck in the world! Steve should be dead, paralyzed, a vegetable, and he’s not?" Marian tells The 700 Club.

She took her questions to the police chaplain, who told her about Jesus Christ. One night, she asked Jesus into her heart. Steve was unaware of the change in her life.

"When I accepted Christ, I told God that it would just be between Him and me and that no one else would have to know. So I didn’t tell anyone, but my life started to change. I started reading the Bible and God became more and more real to me. It helped a lot with trying to cope; I just had a lot more peace about everything."

As Marian's hope and faith in a Savior grew, so did Steve's anger and bitterness toward the man who tried to kill him. His name is Mark Farnham, and he had been sentenced to life in prison.

"At that point in time, the way the sentencing structure was in Wyoming, a life sentence was an average of 12 years. And I was very bitter about that, that in12 he’d be eligible for parole," Steve says.

Steve moved from job to job, still suffering from the physical and psychological wounds from the shooting. Marian saw how miserable he was, so she told him how faith in Jesus had changed her life.

"She told me, 'I’m a Christian, I was baptized today.' And I said, 'Well, that’s neat. Maybe I should get baptized too. Maybe it would help me.' And she said, 'Hold on a second. There’s a little more to it than just being dunked in some water.'”

"And so we went over to the chaplain’s house. And she’s praying and the chaplain’s told me about Jesus as my Lord and Savior. And it made sense to me. I sat there and I thought to myself, 'You know, if Marian can believe this, it’s gotta be true, because Marian was an atheist before she accepted Christ.' And I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior."

Steve had a new faith, but he held on to the anger and bitterness.

"That was something that I wasn’t going to turn loose. It was too important to me ... to turn loose of the anger and bitterness made what happened to me less, and I wasn’t about to allow that to happen."

Steve couldn't understand why Marian's life had changed and his didn't.

"I was so miserable I called the chaplain who had led Marian and me to the Lord and asked him why Marian was so happy, and I was so miserable and he said to me, 'Have you forgiven the man that shot you?' And I said, 'Of course I have.' And he pretty much called me a liar. I think I probably even hung up on him. Another week or two went by and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was so crushed with such a heavy burden that I called him back and I said, 'What do I do?'  And he said, 'Why don’t you write him a letter?'"

Steve did. He told Mark that he'd become a Christian and extended an invitation to him to accept Christ as well.

"It was amazing when I wrote that letter. It was like I could feel … it was just like God just reached down and picked this semi-truck up off me. I actually enjoyed opening up the Bible and reading Scripture. I actually felt the need to go to church. I wanted to go to church. It was such an amazing feeling to have that burden gone," he says.

Steve received an 18-page letter from Mark and the two began exchanging letters. Steve visited Mark in prison. Their friendship, born of forgiveness and Christ's love, grew.

"And I think I truly forgave him. Is there one instant where I can say that I forgave him? I think it was a growth process for me."

Steve and his family visited Mark and prayed for him for years. Then in 2003, Mark got into a scuffle with another inmate and was put into solitary confinement. There, he cried out to God.

"I think there was a voice for some years saying, 'There is a God and you know it.'  But I wasn’t ready to give up that independence. Well, in the hole I said, 'OK, things aren’t working my way. It’s a mess, my life’s a mess. And I need help.' So I got down on my hands and knees there and I prayed. And I knew at that moment that Christ had come into my life and things would be different. And they have been different," Mark says.

Mark became the first inmate in Wyoming to earn a college degree. He also put together a newsletter for prisoners to write about the pain they caused their victims. Mark actively works with other inmates and prison ministries to promote healing.

"Forgiveness is a choice, it’s a conscious choice. And it doesn’t have to be someone that shot you five times. I find that sometimes the little things that really don’t mean anything at all are the hardest things to forgive. As a Christian, I say I believe in Jesus and I believe in the things that he teaches, but I’m not willing to forgive the man that shot me? He forgave me, and it was my sins that put him on the cross. You have a conscious choice to make here. Does being angry and bitter and hateful make you feel good? No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t feel good at all. But to have that release of forgiving someone, will that make you feel good? Yeah, it will. And then you can start moving on with your life. You can start enjoying your life. But as long as you hang on to that hatred and anger and bitterness, you’ll never be happy," Watt says.

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