Spirits and violent death

Are The Spirits of Those Who Die Violent Deaths at the Hands of Others “Stuck” Where They Died, or Might They Keep Vigil There for a Different Reason? 

By Ken K. Gourdin

Author’s Note – The following is a meditation inspired by a story in today’s Salt Lake Tribune by Tribune columnist-cum-reporter Peg McEntee about Terry Jackson-Mitchell, who survived a racially-motivated sniper attack by Joseph Paul Franklin which killed two of her African-American friends as the trio jogged together in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park. In it, Ms. Jackson-Mitchell is quoted as saying that she hopes her friends’ spirits aren’t “stuck in that horrible place.”  Here’s the story, last accessed today: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56549960-78/jackson-mitchell-art-black.html.csp, and here’s what I said in response.


There’s no way I can relate to what happened to Ms. Jackson-Mitchell or to the other people involved.  I don’t mean to discount it or to excuse it in any way.  However, when Ms. Jackson-Mitchell says she hopes the spirits of the people who died “aren’t stuck in that horrible place,” there’s at least one other way to look at it.  I’ve had friends who have relocated elsewhere because Salt Lake City has too many “ghosts” for them (meaning “bad memories,” and speaking figuratively but not literally).  While I miss those friends, I understand why they needed to leave—to get a fresh start away from traumatic events and the assumptions people too often make about those events and my friends’ involvement in them, and I don’t begrudge them that fresh start even though it put considerable distance between us.

The foregoing having been said, oftentimes, people will march or hold vigils in an area where a violent event has occurred.  Why would they do that in a place which might hold so many bad memories and such pain for them?  I believe they do it as a way of telling those who would perpetrate such violence, “We’re not going to let you win.  We’re not going anywhere, and we claim this ground in the names of the people who’ve been killed or harmed here, to honor their memory, and we’re going to do everything possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens here again, so that our friends and neighbors don’t have to deal with the pain we’ve had to deal with.”

What if the spirits of Ms. Jackson-Mitchell’s friends are still there—not because they’re “stuck” there, but rather for the reason I noted above?  (While I have no way of knowing, it’s just food for thought, of course, and I think making room for that possibility is certainly preferable to imagining that someone’s spirit is “stuck” anywhere and still in pain.)  I choose to believe that the spirits of Ms. Jackson-Mitchell’s friends are not “stuck” there, any more than her own spirit is stuck in that horrible time.  (It wasn’t easy, but she, herself has moved beyond it [at least, as much as it is possible to do so].)  And I wish her—and the friends and family of the friends she lost—all the best.  I can’t imagine how difficult it’s been and, although I know this is a cliché, it does seem to me that she’s made lemonades out of the lemons life has given her.  Good on her.  (And perhaps her departed friends had something to do with that, as well.)

In a related vein, I happened across the post of mine below at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion Board from March 31, 2012 while surfing the Internet.  The question which prompted it was, “Can anyone tell me if they’ve heard anything from the church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] about spirits being trapped here or if ‘hauntings’ are real?”  I replied (parenthetical remarks in brackets and end notes, including sources, added):

. . . I don’t know that the spirits necessarily are “trapped” here. I don’t have a reference, but I believe President Brigham Young taught that if the veil were to be lifted, we would see that there are spirits all around us.1 I’m not necessarily prepared to back this up, but provided my memory of what President Young said is accurate, it would make sense to say just as there are a variety of people of varying temperaments around us in the flesh, if we could see those spirits, we would probably see spirits of every stripe: contented and happy, sad, angry and vengeful, et cetera. We do know that that same spirit which possesses a man when he leaves this life goes with him into the eternities2: if he was happy and well-adjusted in mortality, he will be happy and well-adjusted in postmortality, et cetera. (Eventually, once every knee has bowed and every tongue confessed that Jesus is the Christ, I believe His power will work within us such that once we’ve received our postmortal reward, we will be content … whatever our lot happens to be.) But Joseph Smith taught that there will be a great deal of work yet to be done and lessons to be learned in the world of spirits before we receive such a reward.3

I’m not prepared to comment in detail on the doctrinal ramifications of so-called “hauntings,” possessions, evil presences, et cetera, except to say that I do believe the Adversary is hard at work putting his long-held grudge against Heavenly Father’s embodied children into practice. The Adversary and his minions were so eager to have bodies that when the Savior cast a group of them out of a young man, they requested to be allowed to inhabit the bodies of a herd of swine, all of which then plunged to their deaths.4 In general, a disembodied or unembodied spirit will never have ultimate power over an embodied one. The Priesthood, God’s power among men, is real. The Adversary may have power to bruise my heel, but I will always have power to crush his head.

Hope this helps.





See Gospel Principles (2011), Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 240, accessed on line at https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-41-the-postmortal-spirit-world?lang=eng on January 1, 2014.President Brigham Young taught:

When the spirits leave their bodies, . . . they are prepared then to see, hear and understand spiritual things. . . .Can you see spirits in this room?  No. Suppose the Lord should touch your eyes that you might see, could you then see the spirits? Yes, as plainly as you now see bodies, as did the servant of [Elisha] [see 2 Kings 6:16–17]. If the Lord would permit it, and it was his will that it should be done, you could see the spirits that have departed from this world, as plainly as you now see bodies with your natural eyes.

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (1997), Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 279, accessed on line at http://www.lds.org/Static%20Files/PDF/Manuals/TPTC_BrighamYoung_35554_eng.pdf on January 1, 2014 (internal citation omitted).


2. See Alma 34:34 in The Book of Mormon

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 279 in Gospel Principles (2011), Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 279, accessed on line at https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-41-the-postmortal-spirit-world?lang=eng on January 1, 2014.


4. See Mark 5:1-13 in The Holy Bible. 

About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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3 Responses to Spirits and violent death

  1. Hi Ken,

    Thanks for the meditation. I loved your writing.

    I do feel my friends are at peace. I feel them and Franklin walk with me when I speak the truth and allow myself to be vulnerable about that time in my life or racism in America. I feel their support when I have to face the dark corners of pain that should be lit and swept clean.

    I forgave and made peace with the killer. I spoke to him the week and also the day before his execution. I sent him a couple of books to ease his suffering, “The Great Divorce” by CS Lewis and “Feelings Buried Alive Never Die” by Karol Truman. I wanted him to go with hope for transformation. I literally tried to be the embodiment of compassion when we spoke. It felt so urgent and important that I do my part to heal him and me as much as possible.

    My goal was to get him to choose light when he died. I didn’t want his energy to bind with hate or more darkness. I asked that his suffering be eased and that his crimes were weighed with the weight of his life from womb to tomb. I know he chose Light. This journey is one I wouldn’t have ever expected. But I am so grateful that there was a healing from the massacre of that challenging time in our lives.

    I won’t bore you with more ramblings. But I just wanted to say thank you.I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.
    Terry Jackson-Mitchell

    • kenngo1969 says:


      Thank you for gracing my exceedingly humble, exceedingly modest blog with your august presence. (And I mean that most sincerely!) I admire you for the way you have been able to take such a horrible experience and turn it to the good. (Of course, there’s no way mere words can capture the true impact of such an experience.) As I’ve said elsewhere on the Blog, often, we cannot choose our circumstances: the only thing we can choose is our reaction to them. You are a shining example of that, and you have my greatest respect.

      Thanks again for visiting the Blog.


  2. Pingback: Attorneys and Judges are Held to Higher Standard | My Blog

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