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She Found 'Layers To Forgiveness,' In Befriending The Man Who Killed Her Brother

Tasreen Khamisa and Tony Hicks in San Diego, Calif.
Tasreen Khamisa and Tony Hicks in San Diego, Calif.

Tariq Khamisa was a college student working as a pizza delivery driver when he was murdered in a gang-related robbery in 1995.

The person who shot Tariq was 14-year-old Tony Hicks.

Five years after the murder, Tariq's father, Azim Khamisa, went to visit Tony for the first time. Tony, who was released in 2019, was still in prison at the time.

"It took me five years to develop enough courage to come and meet you," Azim told Tony during a recent StoryCorps interview.

Since that first meeting in 2000, the two have become close friends.

But Azim's daughter — Tariq's sister — wasn't ready to meet Tony until 2015.

After her younger brother died, Tasreen Khamisa was devastated. Tariq was her best friend.

It was five years ago that she "really felt a strong pull" to meet the man who killed her brother, Tasreen, now 48, said in a remote StoryCorps interview with Tony last month from San Diego.

"I had some really vivid dreams," she remembered of that time. "And in those dreams, Tariq was always telling me it was important that I have a relationship with Tony."

When she went to first see Tony at Centinela State Prison in Imperial Valley, she said, "I was really, really nervous."

"But the minute he walked into the room, he hugged me. And I just thought, 'Oh my God, I've never been hugged so hard in my life.' "

Their meeting lasted 7 hours that day. By the end of her visit, Tasreen said, "I just thought, this is a really kind person that made a really poor choice and he shouldn't be in prison anymore."

"I think that's why forgiveness journeys are so personal," she said. "It's a process. It's not like a light you turn on and off. I really believe there's layers to forgiveness. And, for me, I'm glad I peeled off that last layer."

Like her father, Tasreen leaned on her spiritual practice as a Sufi Muslim in her grieving process.

After that first meeting, she kept in touch with Tony. They wrote letters and called each other. Today, they have a close relationship and consider each other family.

Working for the Tariq Khamisa Foundation — the restorative justice foundation that her father helped start in Tariq's name — has also helped Tasreen cope with the grief and loss of her brother.

Tony, now 40, said his favorite memory with Tasreen is the first time he met her kids.

"It seemed like we'd already known each other. And I kind of marveled at the fact that they're so smart, they're so worldly at such a young age. They eat sushi," he said. "You're a great mom."

He told her that the more he gets to know her and her children, the greater his love grows for the family, and — at the same time — "the kind of worse I feel for hurting you all the way I've hurt y'all."

Tasreen said she understands how he feels that way, "but that 14-year-old Tony is not the Tony Hicks sitting in front of me right now."

"And it doesn't mean that I don't think about Tariq or I don't miss him. But for me, I think that meeting you and having you in my life, it made a lot of room in my heart for light to come in."

Tony told her that he appreciates her friendship and forgiveness.

"Even when everything else doesn't feel like it's lining up, you are a very good part of my life," he told her.

The feelings are mutual.

"My future feels better with you in it," Tasreen said.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Sylvie Lubow. NPR's Emma Bowman adapted it for the Web.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, atStoryCorps.org.

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