Authored by friend Jason Wood, the work details the family’s struggle to cope with the brutal slaying of 14-year-old Jaime Gough in February 2004.
By DAVID OVALLE
For months, Jason Wood would drive to the house of friends Jorge and Maria Gough. Each visit, they prayed. Then, they spoke for hours.
About the often-painful paths that led each from Latin America to a new home in Miami. About their two children, Jaime and Brenda. And about the day they received the phone call from Southwood Middle School officials.
Each detail of that phone call is still seared into their minds: Another classmate, police told them, had stabbed 14-year-old Jaime to death inside a campus bathroom stall.
Three months of those story-telling sessions culminated recently in a memoir, From Fighting to Forgiving, Learning to Let Go, penned by Wood through the eyes of the Goughs about their struggle to deal with the shocking murder of their son.
“I realized that by holding onto my anger, hate and pain, I was losing myself. I wanted revenge,” Jorge recalls in the book. “At first the rage consumed me. It started to take over my life and shape my thoughts, feelings and actions. I came to the point where life started to exist for the sole purpose of hating another person. A change had to take place.”
Police said classmate Michael Hernandez lured his pal – both boys were 14 then – to the bathroom at Southwood Middle in Palmetto Bay in February 2004. There, as Jaime fought desperately to defend himself, Hernandez stabbed him more than 40 times.
Prosecutors said Hernandez meticulously planned the murder, while his defense attorney claimed the teen was mentally ill and legally insane at the time. Jurors in Orlando, where the trial was held because of the pervasive publicity in Miami, rejected the defense argument.
In September 2008, Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder. After an emotional sentencing hearing, a Miami-Dade judge later sentenced the teen to an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole.
But the Goughs’ ordeal is not over. The U.S. Supreme Court last year banned automatic life sentences without the possibility of parole for minors convicted of murders.
That means the Jorge and Maria Gough likely may face Hernandez again, although he could very well receive the same sentence.
“I think we’re prepared, with God, to go through these tough moments again,” Maria Gough said in a recent interview. “We’ve forgiven Michael.”
With Jaime’s killer behind bars, the Goughs nevertheless grappled with their grief.
Jorge Gough worked as a dockhand at a marina in Grove Isle in Coconut Grove. Working alongside him: Wood, 42, an independent author who penned a series of self-published books about his life as an adopted child.
For endless hours, Jorge Gough and Wood talked about the murder.
“I thought revenge would be the most logical thing to do,” Wood said in an interview. “But he starts explaining the process, this Christian process of forgiving. I thought he was crazy until I really started listening to what he was saying and I realized he was sane and I was the crazy one.”
Wood moved away for several years, and later returned. During that time, the Goughs hired two different writers to try and chronicle their experiences. Both attempts fizzled.
So they turned to Wood.
The book chronicles Maria’s childhood in civil war-torn El Salvador, which included the execution of her mother at the hands of Army soldiers, and her journey crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. Jorge was raised in a rural Panamanian farm and later left to become first mate aboard a private yacht before making his way to Miami.
The two met in an English class in Miami.
The book, through back and forth first-person flash backs, detail Jaime’s early life and the chaos of the day he was murdered.
Afterward, Maria refused to move anything in Jaime’s bedroom. The survivors’ guilt sparked frequent arguments over the tiniest things. The couple wrestled morally with receiving money from a lawsuit settlement from the school district over lax security.
But their story also unfolds in uplifting ways. They created a victim’s support group called The Oasis Group, and began counseling other surviving relatives in high-profile murder cases.
And at a memorial at Southwood, officials released a group of butterflies to honor Jaime’s favorite animal. In an inspiring moment, one flew onto Maria’s shoulder and remained there throughout the ceremony.
The self-published book – available through Amazon or the author’s website – features only a butterfly on the cover.
“We’ve gone through our ups and downs, and we survived,” Jorge Gough said in a recent interview. “We’re still here to tell the story and be able to talk about it and not get frustrated or bitter. I felt writing this book should be positive for others who have gone through the same or worse.”