TV host whose parents were murdered makes documentary ‘Forgiving Cain’

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The McClendon family: Son Theodore, mother Ruby, son Duane, father Milton, and son Garrard attend the induction of former track athlete Duane into the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame in the mid-2000s. | McClendon Estate

You’ve just learned your elderly parents have been murdered, taken from their home in a home invasion, shot multiple times, their bodies dumped in a forest preserve.

How do you almost immediately go on national TV and forgive whoever committed such a heinous crime?

It’s what the world asked when that scenario unfolded on Oct. 19, 2009, for WGN’s CLTV talk show host Garrard McClendon.

“Two innocent God-fearing parents, neighborhood people who always took care of their block and their community. Two teenagers who had recently become gang members decided to rob them. They got $70 and some jewelry, killed my parents, stole their Cadillac and went on a joy ride,” McClendon recalled in a Chicago Sun-Times interview.

Garrard McClendon | Waylan Cooley Phillips photo

Garrard McClendon | Waylan Cooley Phillips photo

Recounting the horror, he drifts off, quiet for a moment, then adds, “It was surreal.”

As host of the “Garrard McClendon Live” show, he had been about to go on the air when his frantic wife called. His parents, Milton McClendon, 78, and Ruby, 76, had just been found shot to death in Cook County Forest Preserve’s Wentworth Woods.

Driving immediately to their home in Hammond, Indiana, McClendon encountered a crime scene of police and news reporters there, uttering a forgiveness that left many in awe.

Now eight years later, McClendon is sharing with the world his journey, through Forgiving Cain: The Impossible Possibility of Ending Murder, a documentary currently in production through Filmmakers Collaborative, a 501 (c)(3) sponsor of nonprofit independent media.

Ruby & Milton McClendon celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary celebration at St. Paul’s Church in Munster, Indiana, in 2005. | Paul Warner photo

Ruby & Milton McClendon celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary celebration at St. Paul’s Church in Munster, Indiana, in 2005. | Paul Warner photo

The film shares the tragedy that befell McClendon and his two brothers, Duane and Theodore, along with stories of 22 other families who lost loved ones to murder.

It explores forgiveness and the issue of gun violence, drawing heavily on seven years of Chicago homicide statistics.

“The journey to forgiveness started when I lost my greatest heroes, my parents. . . . My parents did not die in vain,” McClendon says in his introduction in the film’s trailer.

McClendon’s own story played out in Chicago and national news coverage. Two Northwest Indiana teens were convicted in the crime, and are now serving 120-year sentences. They had asked to use the phone on a ruse of having car trouble, then forced their way into the home of McClendon’s parents. Finding only $50, they beat his father, bound and gagged the couple while ransacking the home, then shot both multiple times. McClendon’s parents had celebrated a 54th wedding anniversary just that weekend.

Milton and Ruby McClendon on their wedding day in 1955. | McClendon Estate

Milton and Ruby McClendon on their wedding day in 1955. | McClendon Estate

“As horrific as these stories are, these families find a space and a place to forgive,” said McClendon, 51, an assistant professor of education at Chicago State University, and host of the “CounterPoint” talk show on PBS’ Lakeshore Public Media.

“The reason for the film is really threefold, to shine a larger spotlight on the serious problem of gun violence, try to figure out some of the things we can do as a society to eradicate it, and most importantly, to show how to forgive,” added McClendon, who interviewed families from across the country, as close as Chicago and Gary, Indiana, and as far as Houston, Las Vegas, Nashville and Mesa, Arizona.

“Ninety-five percent of the participants have forgiven the perpetrators,” said McClendon, a father of two. “The other 5 percent haven’t come to grips with it yet. When asked, ‘Have you forgiven?’ Their response is, ‘No. we haven’t gotten there yet.’ Or, ‘We need more time.’ They want to forgive, but they’re just not at that point.”

Chicago area families interviewed include the parents of Blair Holt, a 16-year-old Julian High School honor student killed shielding a friend from gang gunfire on a CTA bus in May 2007; and the parents of Frankie Valencia, a 21-year-old DePaul University honor student killed by a gang member at a 2009 Halloween party in Humboldt Park.

“One of the themes we found is how murder causes chaos for the universe. A parent is murdered, leaving a spouse and three children, who not only are missing the parent, but the breadwinner, and so the financial state of that family becomes chaotic. A child is murdered, and you’ve been saving up their college fund. Now that fund, something beautiful, is something that’s haunting you,” McClendon said.

The McClendon brothers: Garrard, Duane and Theodore, at the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of their parents at St. Paul’s Church in Munster, Indiana, in 2005. | Paul Warner photo

The McClendon brothers: Garrard, Duane and Theodore, at the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of their parents at St. Paul’s Church in Munster, Indiana, in 2005. | Paul Warner photo

As for his own family, forgiveness was not immediate for everyone.

“My middle brother was at the house that day, and respected my decision, though he didn’t feel the same way at that moment. My oldest brother is still kind of coming to grips with it. It’s a daily process. My wife, Quanica, went through a journey with it, but she’s there now. She has her own story. Her brother was murdered years ago,” said McClendon. “It was painful for my kids because the perpetrators were close to their age. But it was a time for my family to say if we really know God, we have to prove it.”

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