News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: ‘Heaven’s Rain’ depicts murder, forgiveness

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–In 1979, two criminals invaded the home of an Oklahoma Baptist minister and his family. The mother and father were slain, and the children were also shot and left for dead after the burglars took turns raping the young girl. Though such a horrific scenario is reminiscent of Truman Capote’s chilling novel “In Cold Blood,” this horrific recounting adds a spiritual significance that can affect all our lives. The story’s conclusion affirms God’s existence and authority.

The film is called “Heaven’s Rain” and the story is a true one. Richard and Marilyn Douglass had been missionaries in Brazil. After returning to America, Richard pastored a Southern Baptist church (Putnam City Baptist) in Oklahoma City and led a tranquil life. That changed overnight for the couple and their 12-year-old daughter, Leslie and her 16-year-old brother, Brooks.

The film is never exploitive in its handling of the brutal incident. The act is discreetly represented, grieving the viewer with the pictorial thought that people can be so demonic, but then focuses on the living victims as they cope with the memories of that fateful night.

Perhaps motivated by the events of his early years, including that senseless crime, Brooks Douglass went on to grasp life, finding ways where he could display some control. He worked his way through college, served in the military, became a lawyer and prosecuting attorney, and went on to become an Oklahoma state senator for 12 years. Like a scene from “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” freshman senator Douglass stood his ground against a senatorial adversary to present a victims’ rights bill. And it passed.

“I didn’t campaign on victims’ rights,” says Douglass, “because I didn’t want to appear to be crusading and, frankly, I think I was trying to put the murders and all that happened behind me, but the injustice shown to victims of crimes kept coming at me.”

After that 1979 attack, the bloodied brother and sister got into the family car and raced to a local doctor who lived just behind a hospital. Soon, the two kids discovered they had fewer rights than those who had committed the crime. The children were cared for, but at a cost.

“The FBI impounded our car as evidence — it cost $115 to get it back,” Douglass, who co-wrote the script and is the film’s producer, says. “I know this, because my family and I had to pay that in order to get the car back.”

Young Leslie had to undergo a special examination, which cost $500. This also had to be absorbed by the family. These atrocities kept coming back to Sen. Douglass after being sent letter after letter from other crime victims who faced debts due to criminal actions against them.

Before, during, and after the senator’s quest to find justice for victims, he tried unsuccessfully to avoid his own demons.

“I thought of myself as a happy person and I didn’t think I was full of rage,” he says. “But I discovered after years of self-denial that I was overwhelmed with this hatred. My intent when I first saw the triggerman was not what God intended.”

Brooks and Leslie went on to testify at the murder trials of the two men, Glen Burton Ake and Steven Hatch. Each was convicted of the murders and sentenced to death. Hatch was executed in August 1996, but Ake, who did the shooting, got a new trial and was given a life sentence.

Eventually, Douglass was allowed to face Glen Ake.

“It’s impossible to depict on film what’s actually going on in your heart during moments like that. Literally, it was as if God laid his hand on me. The air was so thick I could almost taste it. I could feel God’s presence as if He was telling me, ‘I’m not going to let you get angry, I’m not going to let you blow this.’ The only way to describe it was this very intense and powerful sense of love. It was so thick around me that I was unable to do what I thought I was there to do.” (It’s implied in the film that Douglass was seeking a chance to kill his one-time attacker, the man who had brutalized his sister.)

“As I unloaded on him about Leslie, who suffered far more than me, I felt as if my body was full of water and my head full of poison. Then as I got up and put my hand on the door, I turned around and looked back at him and thought, ‘There’s more to this.’ I went back to the table, as if pulled by a magnet, and after an eternity of silence, something completely unexpected came out of my mouth. ‘I forgive you.’

“It was not at all what I was there to do. I had told Ake, ‘My father was a minister and he taught me that I was always to forgive. I can’t. It’s not in me to do that.’ But when those words ‘I forgive you’ were spoken, I just fell back in the chair, suddenly feeling as if the bottoms of my feet opened up and the water and hatred were pouring out over the floor. I could almost see it. At the same time, it felt like a clamp was taken off my chest and I could breathe again for the first time in 15 years. I remember walking out the doors of the prison and feeling like the sky was bluer, the trees were greener. All my senses were just extraordinarily heightened. It was a life-changing experience.”

What was Glen Ake’s reaction to this?

“He just sobbed.

“He’s still in prison. In fact, we shot scenes from the film in that very prison. The last night of filming, I actually saw him. He had turned his light on in his cell at about 2 in the morning and I could see him through his window.”

Sitting in that interrogation room, amid the memories of the Douglass family’s night of horror and torment, Ake suddenly confessed something extraordinary to Sen. Douglass. He had become a Christian.

O. S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, knew Richard Douglass and has seen the movie.

“Heaven’s Rain is the true and gripping story of how even the most horrendous of life’s tragedies can ultimately result in the power of forgiveness,” Hawkins said. “I have known and loved this family before their night of horror and afterwards. This is no fictitious tale but an experiential reality beaten out on the anvil of personal experience by the two Douglass children. This film will put you on the edge of your seat, and when all is said and done ‘weeping may endure for a night but joy will come in the morning.'”

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, also knew Richard Douglass.

“As a young pastor in Oklahoma in the 1970s, I was deeply saddened by the tragedy involving my friend Dr. Richard Douglass and his wife and two children,” Graham. “I am now so grateful that his son, Brooks, has shared the Douglass family story powerfully through Heaven’s Rain. This story of pain and suffering and sorrow is now a message of hope and redemption for the world.”
Heaven’s Rain is opening in theaters in a limited release. (Visit the film’s website at www.heavensrainmovie.com.) It is rated R for the subject matter and a brief depiction of the home invasion. For the detailed review of Heaven’s Rain go to: http://moviereporter.com/. Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad,” available on Amazon.com. He also writes about Hollywood for previewonline.org.

    About the Author

  • Phil Boatwright