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Accused kidnapper's troubled past elicits complicated reactions

She emerged midway through the Kienan Hebert abduction drama cast in the role no one wants in a story like this: mother of the villain.

And yet only the heartless among us couldn't feel sorry for 70-year-old Margaret Fink, as she peered into the television cameras, respiratory tubes running from her nose, trying to assure the world that her son, Randall Hopley, 46, would do no harm to little Kienan Hebert.

And, as far as we know, she was right.

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In part because of that, the feelings many of us hold toward Mr. Hopley today are more complicated than they might have been had this story had the gruesome ending many anticipated. And when Kienan's father, Paul, refused to join the chorus of those demanding that Mr. Hopley immediately be strapped to an electric chair, it made many of us pause to reflect on the extraordinary perspective he was offering us.

Mr. Hopley was a sick and troubled man who needed help, said Mr. Hebert. He required therapy, not threats.

That is not a view shared by all, of course. For many, the earth should be spared of the Randall Hopleys of the world, and the sooner the better. To these folks, he is a sexual deviant beyond rehabilitation. Maybe he is. But we really don't know.

What we do now understand is that Mr. Hopley had problems from a young age. As Mrs. Fink told me in an interview this week, her boy was never quite the same after his father, Hugh, who Randall apparently adored and followed everywhere, died in a mine explosion. Her son was 2 at the time. After that he became more difficult to handle. Once he got to school, he became a problem for teachers.

For Mrs. Fink, dates and timelines from 40 years ago are now foggy. She believes Randall was 6 or 7 when child welfare authorities came and took him away. "I had my hands full at the time and three other kids to worry about," she said. "I didn't mind because I thought that was best for him."

Randall was taken to Vancouver for evaluation and would end up in foster homes in the Cranbrook area. She said he seemed fine any time she visited him back then. Eventually, however, she lost track of his whereabouts and would mostly get second-hand accounts of his problems with the law.

But she never stopped loving him.

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"I want to see him so badly," said Mrs. Fink, sobbing, her voice frail and thin-sounding. "They said I would be able to but now they've moved him to Kamloops. I love Randall and I know that he would love to see me. He needs me.

"The whole thing has been pretty hard. My boy needs help right now. He's not a bad person. I think he showed people that."

Sitting at his home, nearly a week after the safe return of his son, Paul Hebert is no less sympathetic to Randall Hopley than he was the day he proclaimed his forgiveness for what he did. "Forgiveness is a condition of the heart," he said on the phone. "There's two paths you can choose when you come into a situation like ours: anger or compassion. Anger is for people who only want to see themselves as the victim. Compassion allows you to get beyond that and move on."

That does not mean, Mr. Hebert was quick to point out, that Mr. Hopley shouldn't be held accountable for what he did. Or that he shouldn't be forced to get the help he needs.

"But how can you be angry with someone who needs help as much as he does?" said Mr. Hebert. "He still had the compassion to bring Kienan back and I can't forget that. I believe there isn't a human on earth who isn't salvageable."

Mr. Hebert is a devout Christian and his faith certainly informs his attitude. However, he likes to think he'd feel this way regardless of his religious views. Some people have interpreted Mr. Hebert's empathetic outlook as a sign he isn't angry about what happened.

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Of course he's been angry, Mr. Hebert said. But he realized that until he put those feelings behind him, he would never put what happened behind him. Besides, he said, he can't escape the feeling that over the years Mr. Hopley never received the psychiatric help he needed because people simply didn't care enough about him.

"I think his mother needs to know that everything is okay," said Mr. Hebert. "Hopefully, her son is going to get the help he needs now."

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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