Father offers forgiveness to 5-year-old son’s killer

When people ask me why I forgave Rodney, I tell them: my son Kalen was not about hatred or violence or pain. He was about love and forgiveness, and my decision to forgive Rodney was an act to honor my son’s spirit. 

  • 2 years ago
  • December 23, 2021
8 min read
Kalen Sherlock died at the age of 5 when a gun, handled by his mother's boyfriend, accidentally discharged and struck him in the head while he was sleeping. | Screenshot courtesy of WIVB.com, "Olean man asks Judge to forgive the man who shot and killed his son"
Tim Sherlock
Interview Subject
Since this article was published, Timothy “T.R.” Sherlock published a full-length book called A Song for Kalen: Lessons Learned from the Life and Death of my Son. The book came out through NFB Publishing in Buffalo, NY and it covers the experiences surrounding the shooting death of T.R.’s 5-year-old son Kalen.

Today, four years later, T.R. resides in Western New York with his son Karter and his niece Madison. He is the co-founder of On Demand Mediation, LLC and E-Court Coach Consulting, LLC. He serves an office manager and legal aid for Tina Bennet, Esq., a father’s rights lawyer.

Tim is also a licensed substance abuse and mental health counselor in the State of New York. He holds a dual major Bachelor’s Degree in English Language Literature/Letters and Clinical Psychology, and a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology.

For book updates and to follow Tim, find him on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Tik Tok.
Background Information
Kalen Raymond Sherlock was born on Oct. 11, 2011, in Canandaigua, NY. He and his brother Karter later moved to South Carolina with their mother Beth Lynn Sherlock. Her boyfriend Rodney Pittman resided with them.

At 5 years old, Kalen sustained a gunshot wound to the head while sleeping in bed. Court documents say the gun Pittman was cleaning accidentally discharged. He was drunk and high at the time. Kalen died on Sept. 16, 2017, in a hospital bed, in the arms of his father.

South Carolina courts convicted Pittman, who was 29 at the time, of involuntary manslaughter and unlawful neglect of a child. He received a 20-year sentence, served five years, and remains on probation.

Beth Lynn Sherlock, who was 34, was charged with allowing infliction of great bodily injury upon a child and two counts of unlawful neglect of a child. In August 2018, she pled guilty to a common law misdemeanor for breach of peace, aggravated in nature. Pittman, a felon, was prohibited from possessing a firearm. It was alleged Sherlock knew this and continued to give him access to firearms in her home.

Formerly a teacher at Darlington County School District, Beth also lost her teaching credentials.

HARTSVILLE, South Carolina—It was a Friday in September: just a plain, old, ordinary Friday. There was nothing more remarkable about this day over any other.

I woke up abruptly from a sound sleep at 4 a.m. Something had startled me, as if there had been an earthquake. Everything seemed to be in place, so I made my way to the tiny galley-style kitchen in my one-bedroom apartment to make myself a cup of coffee.

Carefully stepping around the many boxes in varying stages of being packed and sealed for my upcoming “big move,” I looked out my tiny kitchen window. The sun was just beginning to soften the darkness into light gray.

As I looked through the boxes haphazardly and I drank my coffee, I knew this move was the right decision. I was preparing to move to South Carolina in the next couple weeks to be with my boys, my miracles. I had been sober for almost two years, and I was ready to be the dad I was always meant to be.

A dreaded phone call confirms the worst

I made my way from the window to the bathroom. Every Friday night I performed in a drag show, one of my many newfound hobbies in my new life. I quickly showered and packed up my supplies and costumes, pushing away that uneasy feeling hanging over me.

A few hours later, at my friend’s house, the crew was getting ready. I was smoking a cigarette and socializing when my phone started ringing. It was Kim, my mother-in-law. I had hardly spoken to her since divorcing her daughter three years ago. Unease sunk in my stomach.

“I have to take this,” I said to the girls. “It’s not going to be good.”

I answered the phone with a “hello” as upbeat as I could muster, and her voice answered softly. “Hey Tim, it’s Kim, I need to talk to you.” I could already hear something was off in the tentative way she was speaking.

What came next, no one can ever prepare for, or even imagine. What came next is the very thing that every parent has nightmares over, but always believes it happens to other people, never to them. In a clear yet hurried voice, she told me there had been an accident, but that my son Karter and ex-wife Beth were okay. Kalen, my other little boy, was on life support.

A flurry of thoughts swept through my mind and a numbness ran down my spine. For a moment, all my senses left me, and I could no longer hear or see. I could not feel the ground beneath my feet.

“It doesn’t look good,” she whispered so softly it was barely audible.

My entire body went numb, and everything around me slowed to a halt. Nothing existed. I did not understand.

Throughout the day, I learned from the hospital and the investigator that my son had been shot in the head. I boarded a flight to South Carolina that afternoon.

Holding my son in the hospital bed

At the hospital, Kalen looked so tiny; too little for the bed cradling his sleeping body. The covers were tucked up to his chin, hiding his frame and revealing only his small, round face, now puffy and swollen. A ventilator tube held his delicate lips agape.

Machines blinked and beeped nearby. Bandages had been carefully wrapped around his head at an angle, covering one eye, like something you see in a war encampment. But Kalen was not a man; he wasn’t a soldier struck down on the front lines of battle. He was my little boy, my 5-year-old son.

This image would haunt me far longer than any other trauma in my entire life.

The nurse stood nearby, and I told her that I needed a tissue to wipe his nose. A little piece of mucous protruded out. The nurse explained it was not a booger on his nose; it was his brain dissolving.

The room shrunk and the sounds of the machines seemed suddenly louder. The world stopped moving for a moment and nothing real existed except for me and Kalen; father and son. I knew what needed to be done, and I would tend to every detail.

Kalen’s life was measured in minutes from that moment forward. To me, each minute was a decade in slow motion.

Later that day—Sept. 16, 2017—I climbed up on the hospital bed and gathered my baby boy into my arms. Christmas was three months away, but I put on his favorite movie: “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” I began to sing along with the lyrics.

The doctors stopped the machine as I sang on. Kalen passed away as I held him tight.

Father shocks courtroom with victim’s impact statement

After Kalen died, I struggled with intense pain but remained sober.

On the day of sentencing, my Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor drove me to the courthouse. Rodney Pittman, my ex-wife’s boyfriend, had pleaded guilty and convicted of involuntary manslaughter and unlawful neglect of a child for the death of my son.

In my hands, I held the victim’s impact statement I intended to read. In my heart, I was full of vengeance. I was going there to get justice for Kalen.

Inside, I watched Rodney walk into the courtroom and make his way to his seat. Something was different. I saw in Rodney that day, a broken man, and I recognized his pain immediately. As a recovering addict, I know what true brokenness looks like. You cannot fabricate it.

In his statement to the judge, Rodney unraveled, tears streaming from his eyes. “I feel horrible because I let [Kalen] down,” he cried. “He trusted me to protect him. I never thought anything like this would happen. If I could change it, I would.”

When it was my turn to speak, I approached the podium and lifted a picture of Kalen up for the judge to see. What came next surprised even me. I put down what I had written and instead, I spoke from the heart. This little boy will never laugh again, I said. He will never lose a tooth; never fall in love or have a broken heart. Rodney took that from him.

What came out next shocked everyone. I told the judge that I could have been that man; every time I got behind the wheel drunk or stoned, I could have taken someone’s life. By the grace of God, I did not, and I won’t do that now.

I asked the judge for mercy, then I turned to Rodney—the man my sons loved and trusted so much. We locked eyes and I forgave him, but I was stern. I don’t want to hear that you are suicidal, I told him. You don’t get to die. Your life is not your own anymore. Your life is my son’s. You have to make something good out of this.

I asked the judge to allow the offered plea deal . He looked at me with astonishment and turned to Rodney. “Mr. Pitman, I hope you understand the immense gift you’ve been given,” he said. Rodney received 20 years; he would serve five and be monitored on probation for 15 more.

The aftermath and the memory of a beautiful life

Today, Rodney is a good man. He cannot escape the past, but he has made something positive out of it. He has spoken to at-risk youth about addiction and gun violence, and he attempts to live a good and clean life.

When people ask me why I forgave Rodney, I tell them: my son Kalen was not about hatred or violence or pain. He was about love and forgiveness, and my decision to forgive Rodney was an act to honor my son’s spirit. 

Kalen’s spirit lives on through us. We all learned a lesson from a little boy who loved deeply, and we attempt to honor him in how we live our lives today.

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