It’s not often that a hate crime has a happy ending or something close to it.
Back in November, angered by the terrorist attacks in Paris, Ted Hakey Jr. fired shots at an empty mosque near his house in Meriden, Connecticut.
The Hartford Courant reported that Hakey, a former Marine, pled guilty to intentional destruction of religious property in February. He is set to be sentenced in May and faces eight to 14 months in prison.
Five months later, he did something unusually brave: He stood up in front of members of the mosque and apologized.
“I want to just apologize to everybody,” Hakey said at the event, hosted by the Baitul Aman mosque. “I really have no excuses, and I don’t think you could imagine the amount of regret I have, and just the heartache I caused for everybody, brought discredit upon myself, the Marine Corps, everything I stand for.”
The leaders of the mosque did something even braver, something they did not have to do: They forgave him.
“What was said that day made a huge difference to us,” Mohammed Qureshi, president of the mosque, told the Courant. “We greeted and we hugged just like a Muslim neighbor. We know why he did what he did because he never heard our message. We now see it in his heart and we see it in his eyes.”
Hakey told them he wishes he’d gotten to know his Muslim neighbors better before leaping to conclusions about them.
Qureshi said there were tears in the room as Hakey delivered his apology. After the event, Hakey gave and received hugs from congregants, many of whom reported being moved by what appeared to be a sincere plea for forgiveness.
“We look forward to being good neighbors in the future, and having a close friendship as well,” Qureshi said after Hakey’s address.
Sadly, Hakey wasn’t alone in resorting to anti-Islam violence after the Paris attacks.
In the month following the November killings, there were nearly 40 documented attacks on Muslims in the United States. A Washington Post report found that hate crimes against Muslims are five times more common today than they were before Sept. 11, 2001.
It’s a danger that makes the Baitul Aman members’ willingness to forgive all the more remarkable.
Hakey said that while “sorry” doesn’t excuse his actions, he’s grateful to the congregation for giving him the opportunity to learn.
His biggest regret was not having come by sooner.
“I was a neighbor, and I did have fear, and the fear was always when you don’t know something,” Hakey said in his address. “The unknown, you are always afraid. I wish that I had come and knocked on your door, and if I had spent five minutes with you, it would have been all the difference in the world. And I didn’t do that.”
You can watch Hakey’s entire emotional apology below.
(The important part starts at 34:02)