On January 14, 2022, North Las Vegas police officer Nicholas Quintana answered a dispatch call that changed his life. A child called 911 to report her parents fighting. Then four shots announced a tragic end. Twenty-seven-year-old Quintana, who was on his lunch break, felt “this abrupt urge” to answer the call, and he raced to the scene with other cops. There they found not just a fatally shot man, but five children. Police arrested the forty-year-old mother for killing her ex-husband.
The couple’s children, ranging in ages from six to seventeen, were now without parents. “So, are they going to split us up?” one of the distraught children kept asking. Quintana felt he was there for a reason. His own father had been killed by a relative when he was young. He knew what it was like to be both fatherless, and to carry a toxic burden of hatred toward a family member who had been responsible. On the scene, as the youngest child wailed and the children anguished over their probable separate futures in child protective services, he confided to a fellow officer that he wanted to make a home for all five children. He went home that night heavy-burdened.
Quintana and his twenty-six-year-old wife Amanda did not yet have children. Nicholas shared his over-sized hope with his wife. “Is this a dream?” she asked. She was “understandably … absolutely reluctant towards it… I was like ‘Well listen, hun, just meet the kids, just meet them, because you might fall in love with these kids. Just meet them.’” They drove the next day to the city’s Child Haven, and hearts melted. “All of us?” the seventeen-year-old had asked wide-eyed, when Amanda and Nicholas proposed their plan. “Every single one of you,” the Quintanas responded. Two days later they were driving back to their three bedroom, two-bath home as a family of seven. They were a new family, embarked on a challenging new journey.
What motivates this largeness of heart? Quintana speaks openly about feeling called to this, about wanting to be for the children the father they need and the one he never had. He worries that he might fail because he had no modeling, but the experience of his father’s murder taught him an important lesson that he wants to share with the children. He told them: “I want you to promise me that you’ll learn to forgive. It’s impossible to forget things…Especially things that hurt us the most,” but he found in his own life that he was released from the burden of toxic anger only when he could say “I don’t this hold against you anymore. I love you…That took a long time to happen, a while to happen.”
The fact that it did happen, for him and for others, has huge ripple effects – many of them empirically verifiable. Twenty years of psychological research now supports Quintana’s conviction that forgiveness is freeing and conduces to human flourishing. In study after study “spiritually motivated forgiveness” is linked to improved psychosocial wellbeing, mental health, and improved physical health outcomes. It is linked to lower risk of depression. Books with titles such as The Psychology of Forgiveness (M.E. McCullough, et al.; 2000), Forgiveness and Health (L.L. Toussaint, et al., 2015), The Handbook of Forgiveness (E.L. Worthington, et al.; 2020) and many others point to this virtue as a path to emotional and physical wellness. There are no words to describe the sort of real-life heroism of Nicholas and Amanda Quintana. This month, as Christians remember Jesus forgiving his own crucifiers from the cross, that is the lesson he wants to share with his children. And it’s not simply a religious one.