Erin’s Story

(audio version click here)

Erin met her husband Jon when they were in high school, both of them deeply committed to their faith. They did the long distance thing while Jon went off to Bible College in California. A year younger than Jon, Erin would follow him there after she graduated. She was only 19 when they were married.

Nearly 13 years later, they were a close-knit family of five. Erin and Jon’s faith permeated every aspect of their life, perhaps best reflected in their marriage. Jon was a 33-year-old carpenter, providing for his family with hard, honest work.

Jon and Erin Stoffel Family 2010
The Stoffel Family (2010) Jon, Erin, Olivia, Ezra, Selah

Their eldest, Olivia was quiet and genuine, mature beyond her 11 years. She was a miniature version of her mother, following Erin around like a shadow.

Erin Olivia 2013
Erin and Olivia (2013)

May 3, 2015, was one of those beautiful spring days that begs to be enjoyed outside, after the long, bleak winter. Jon, Erin and their three children went for a walk along the newly-constructed Trestle Trail Bridge, a 1600-foot pedestrian bridge located in Menasha, Wisconsin.

trestle trail
Trestle Trail Pedestrian Bridge in Menasha, Wisconsin

As they approached the red pavilion at the midpoint of the bridge, there was a man standing next to another man who was slumped over on a bench. Jon approached the man, trying to assess the situation.

Death was upon them.

Without warning, the man pulled out a 9mm pistol and shot Jon point blank in the chest. He then turned the gun on Erin and 11-year-old Olivia, shooting each of them once. All three went to the ground. Erin’s 5-year-old daughter Selah stood frozen next to her.

Run.

Shot through the leg, Erin scrambled to her feet, grabbing the hand of her daughter Selah. More shots fired. A bullet went through Erin’s abdomen, then another pierced her left hand as she approached her 7-year-old son Ezra, who was further ahead. Erin ushered her two children off the bridge, finally collapsing when she reached the shore. Then the pain set in. Sirens in the distance. Her mind coming to grips with what had just transpired. Lying on the ground, bleeding out from 3 gunshot wounds. Unbearable pain in her stomach. The gunman somewhere nearby. Her family scattered. So much chaos, so much confusion, there was only one thing she could be certain of. Everything was changing.

Jon and Olivia.jpg
Jon and Olivia (2008)

Erin’s husband Jon, their daughter Olivia, and another innocent man were killed that day on the Trestle Trail Bridge. The gunman did not know any of the victims. His apparent intentions were to take lives indiscriminately, the last one being his own. When Erin awoke from multiple surgeries in the hospital the next day, she was unable to speak because of a breathing tube, but she was determined to say something. She furiously scribbled on a blank sheet of paper that was given to her. Erin was trying to tell everyone the last words of her husband Jon as he faced his killer:

‘May God forgive you.’

Those words brought healing and hope to those touched by this tragedy, and inspired many to forgive. This event made national news, devastating a small community. This wasn’t supposed to happen here. This wasn’t supposed to happen to a family like this…

If you would like to read how Erin’s life has unfolded since the events of this tragedy, click here

Follow Erin’s Facebook Page “Purpose In The Pain”

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