Family finds grace after brutal murder

Leslie Gahagan dances with her grandfather, George Baker III, at her Sept. 4 wedding in downtown Lynchburg.

Leslie Gahagan fondly recalls her grandfather smiling and dancing during her wedding last month.

“He was having a great time,” Leslie, who graduated from Liberty last spring, said. “He was happy to see everybody.”

Her husband, Joe, also a Liberty graduate, described George Baker III as the “life of the party.”

As Joe waited downstairs for his new wife to change clothes and leave for the honeymoon, his dad told him Baker had been rushed to the hospital.

After the couple left the reception, Joe told Leslie in the car they had to go to the emergency room.

Three teenage boys allegedly attacked Baker, 81, as he walked back to Craddock-Terry Hotel from the reception in downtown Lynchburg late Saturday, Sept. 4. Baker, of Tempe, Ariz., died the next day. Two 16-year-olds face murder charges and will be tried as adults.

A 13-year-old was also charged in the attack.

The honeymoon plans were put on hold as the couple prepared for a funeral.

“We were really close,” Leslie said of her grandfather.

In the midst of a devastating loss, the young couple is extending grace and forgiveness.

“It’s human to struggle with anger and hurt,” Leslie said. “I feel like there is a glimpse of mercy and grace.”

Joe and Leslie, who live in Swansboro, N.C., feel sorry for the alleged attackers’ families.

“It’s easy to forgive someone when you know that you are in need of the same amount of grace,” Joe said. “Those boys need the same amount of grace as I do.”

Joe hopes the accused attackers will find comfort in the Lord.

“If they have Jesus, they have everything they need,” he said. “There is a lot of grace to go around.”

Leslie is hopeful for an opportunity to reach out to the attackers’ families.

“I will admit I have had a hard time in the last couple of weeks,” she said. “But I really do want to love these people. They are suffering just as much as we are.”

Leslie said her grandfather, an avid golfer, was dedicated to prayer.

“He was just a nice guy,” she said. “He wanted the best for everybody.”

During the wedding reception, Baker told the couple’s minister, “If I were to die tonight, I’d die a happy man.”

“He was ready to go home … he really missed my grandmother,” Leslie said, pausing for a moment. “This is how it was supposed to be. This is such a huge random thing there has to be a purpose behind it.”

The Gahagans visited friends in Lynchburg last weekend. They ran the Virginia Ten-Miler downtown.

“You have complete strangers cheering you on and giving you water. It gives me chills to think about, but that’s Lynchburg,” Joe said.

They have thought about moving back to Lynchburg after Joe, a United States marine, finishes his enlistment in two years. He will leave in January for a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan.

“I love Lynchburg. It’s such a community,” Leslie said.

The alleged attackers will face trials in the coming months.

Joe and Leslie said they will watch closely and trust God to work through a difficult circumstance.

“God will have His way, and His will accomplished,” Joe said. “He’s going to complete His plan.”

PARKER is a news reporter.

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