esther salas

Federal NJ Judge Who Lost Son Recounts Ambush, Path to Forgiving Killer

"I know that he hated me because I was a woman. He hated me because I was Latina. That was the source of the hate -- what I had done was I had the nerve to become a judge," Judge Esther Salas told "Good Morning America" of her son's killer

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What to Know

  • Judge Esther Salas lost her 20-year-old son and her husband was gravely wounded when a gunman stormed into their New Jersey home over the summer and opened fire
  • Federal authorities say disgruntled attorney Roy Den Hollander committed the attack before dying by suicide
  • In the wake of the attack, Salas has called for more protection of the privacy of federal judges; she's also speaking out on her loss

The New Jersey federal judge who lost her son and saw her husband gravely wounded in a shooting ambush by a disgruntled attorney who later took his own life over the summer recounted the attack in painful detail Tuesday -- and how her personal tragedy has motivated her further to be "the best person I can be."

Judge Esther Salas was in the basement of her North Brunswick home July 19, talking to her 20-year-old son Daniel, when the doorbell rang.

"Before I could tell him, 'Let Dad handle it,' he shot up the stairs," Salas said in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America. "The next thing I hear is, 'Boom!' and then 'No!"

Salas recounted hearing a series of gunshots and ran upstairs. She says she saw her son, lying perpendicular to the door holding his chest; her husband, Mark, was on his hands and knees at the porch, after having crawled in an effort to get the license plate. Her husband screamed to call 911. She says she did that, then lifted her son's shirt and saw the bullet hole that killed him.

Later investigation revealed the shooter to be Roy Den Hollander, a "men's rights" lawyer and frequent litigant, who shot Mark and Daniel Anderl days after killing another lawyer in California. He was found dead by suicide the next day, with a list of what authorities believe were potential targets, including other judges. He had posed as a delivery driver to gain access to the judge's home.

daniel anderl, son of a new jersey federal judge
St. Joseph's High School
Daniel Anderl, 20, son of a New Jersey federal judge died Sunday, July 19, after a gunman shot the young man and his father at their North Brunswick home.

Salas' husband had been shot three times but managed to survive, though he had to undergo multiple surgeries. Salas told GMA that now the hardest injury is to his heart: "They were so close. He talks about Danny as his best friend."

"From the moment that little boy came to this world, he was the center of our universe," Salas said.

Asked whether she recalled any prior interactions with Den Hollander that could explain the attack, Salas struggled to remember. She said it had been months, if not a year, when he last appeared before her in court and he never threatened her.

But Salas says she knew he hated her.

"I know that he hated me because I was a woman. He hated me because I was Latina. That was the source of the hate -- what I had done was I had the nerve to become a judge," Salas told GMA.

In the weeks after the shooting, Salas called for increased privacy for federal judges. She spoke out forcefully and heartfully, saying her son's death would not be in vain. Now, Salas says, she's relying on her faith to move forward and find the strength to forgive her son's killer.

"Hate is heavy. Love is light," she said.

Salas added that she does plan to return to the bench -- and remains more committed than ever to being the best judge and person she can be.

"This man took the most important thing in my life. I can't let him take anything else. I know that I'm going to strive every morning to be the best person that I can be," Salas said. "My son gave his life for his father and I. I have to look at that and say, what a gift. I can't squander it."

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