A HEALING FAITH: Finding forgiveness after losing the Sueppels - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

A HEALING FAITH: Finding forgiveness after losing the Sueppel family


CEDAR RAPIDS (KWWL) -- It's been more than two years since Steve Sueppel killed his wife, Sheryl, and their four children in an Iowa City home.

"There are certain things that are locked in your memory. Like when the Challenger exploded, things along those lines. Then, that was another one of those defining moments where I remember exactly where I was at and the feeling of helplessness at that point in time," said Dave Kesterson, Sheryl Sueppel's brother.

Dave remembers the moment he heard his sister and his nieces and nephews were dead in their Iowa City home. His brother-in-law, Steve Sueppel, had killed his wife Sheryl and their four children: Ethan, Seth, Mira and Eleanor.

The news came over a cell phone call from his mom.

"She just told me that they were gone. And I really didn't grasp what she was telling me at the time," Dave said.

It was hard for anyone to believe. On Easter Sunday 2008, a 42-year-old bank vice president beat his wife and children to death with a baseball bat. The Iowa City man had been charged with stealing over $500,000 from his former employer, Hills Bank and Trust. He was out on bond awaiting trial when the murders happened.

His brother-in-law says family members had rallied around the couple up to that point.

"You guys have been together for 20 years. You can work though this. I wanted her to stay with him and work it out. At no point in time did she ever mention the word divorce or separation. That never came up," Dave said.

It was the next morning when Steve Sueppel died, deliberately crashing his minivan on Interstate 80.

"My hope was that we would find him alive. It wasn't so that we could have an eye-for-an-eye type situation. It was because I truly loved him. I mean I knew him for 20-plus years. The person that committed that act was not the person that we knew and loved," Dave said.

The 47 year-old, who has three children, recalls breaking the news to them about their uncle, aunt and cousins.

"To tell them that an entire family's been killed by a father. It was just earth shattering," he said.

Amazingly, Dave says one of the first things that happened was forgiving his brother-in-law.

"One of the easiest things I had to do that week was forgive Steve. It was just automatic and I think that comes from my faith. I understand that he wasn't in his right mind when he did this. No one in their right mind would do something like this," Dave said.

But in the midst of that came some very difficult moments.

"We went through the loss of six members of our family and burying them was one of the most difficult times in my entire life and then to be on center stage with cameras everywhere was not something I wanted," Dave said.

Dave says, because of his Christian faith and his memories of his brother-in-law, he was able to forgive Steve.

"A lot of people can't understand the goodness of the man he was. He was not defined by this one moment. The reality is I knew my brother-in-law as well as anybody and that wasn't who he was," Dave said.

Already a church-goer before the tragedy, Dave leaned on the congregation at First Church of The Open Bible in Cedar Rapids.

"I've got a church here that supports me beyond anything I ever could have imagined and that makes going to bed at night a lot easier," Dave said.

Dave called Grief Share, a class offered by his church, instrumental in the healing process.

"My wife and I took the Grief Share class together then my mom and dad took it based on the encouragement they got from my wife and I. I look back and reflect and think that was one of greatest things that we ever could have done," Dave said.

Thousand of churches in the U.S. sponsor Grief Share courses. One of the weekly lessons changed Dave's perspective about his loss.

"If you could ask one question what would it be and I wrote down I would ask Steve why he thought this was the only answer and then the next question in the book said if you knew the answer to the why would it make you hurt any less? And really, from that point on, I said I have to move beyond this. I cannot let that bog me down," Dave said.

Since the loss of Steve, Sheryl, Ethan, Seth, Mira and Eleanor, Dave's been very open about describing his brother-in-law as a wonderful father and husband and his sister as a devoted wife and mother who would do things like donate children's books to hospitals and doctor's offices.

"Her heart was much larger than she was. I mean she would do things. After her death we found out things that she was doing that we had no idea about," Dave said.

Going public with the healing process and sharing his faith is what helps keep his sister's and her family's memory alive.

"I wanna honor her with what I do from here on out," Dave said.

For more information about Grief Share and churches that offer the classes, go to the website www.griefshare.org and enter your zip code.

Online reporter/Anchor: Tara Thomas 

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