Nearly three months after her son was shot dead by a white racist attacker outside her home, New Jersey Judge Esther Salas spoke for the first time about what it has taken to recover from the terrible event.
In an exclusive interview with “Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts, Salas relived the moment when Manhattan and self-described anti-feminist attorney Roy Den Hollander took the life of her 20-year-old son, who stood between the attacker and his father.
“This man took the most important thing in my life. I can’t let him take anything else,” said Salas. “I love my job. I’m proud to be a United States district judge. I can’t let him take that from me.”
Salas became a target of this racially-motivated sexist act of violence after making her name a pioneer of the Hispanic community.
Born on December 29, 1968, to a Cuban mother and Mexican father, Esther Salas is a U.S. district judge in the District of New Jersey.
After serving as a U.S. magistrate judge in the same court from 2006 until her confirmation as a federal district judge in 2011, Salas became the first Hispanic woman to serve in both those roles in her state.
She decided to focus her career on social service inspired by her family’s struggle growing up in poverty, with a mother who did not speak English and against all the obstacles that communities of color in the United States face.
After graduating from law school, and after years of experience as a paralegal, Assistant Federal Public Defender, and president of several Hispanic legal associations in New Jersey, President Barack Obama nominated her as a federal district judge.
As she told ABC News, when Salas and her husband, Mark A. Anderl, married in 1995, having a child was not easy.
“I had four miscarriages,” shared Salas. “God graced us with Daniel in 2000. And from the moment that little boy came to this world, he was the center of our universe. He was the reason we existed.”
Salas was in her basement on July 19 when a gunshot echoed through her front door. Hollander opened fire, killing her son Daniel, 20, on the spot and injuring her husband.
Two days later, the FBI found Den Hollander’s body in what sources have said was a self-inflicted gunshot wound in upstate New York.
“I just got on the floor, and I just saw my son. I know at some point, Mark was screaming, ‘Call 911.’ I tried to do that. And I lifted his shirt, and I saw the bullet hole,” explained Salas. “Mark managed to crawl back, and we were both just watching him fade away.”
Two weeks later, Salas spoke in front of the camera about the incident, urging authorities to extend protection to federal judges.
“I am here asking everyone to help me ensure that no one ever has to experience this kind of pain,” she said. “We may not be able to stop something like this from happening again, but we can make it hard for those who target us to track us down.”
Salas said that every weekend since her husband’s release from the hospital, her church’s pastor, Father Robert Lynam, would visit Salas and pray with her. It was during one of his homilies that she remembers letting it all go.
“I bowed my head, and I forgave him three times,” she said. “And from the moment I did that, I felt lighter. You know, hate is heavy. Love is light. And I honestly haven’t spent a moment thinking about him at all.”
With all that’s happened to her and her family, Salas hopes her story and her experiences inspire others to find the strength to move forward.
She’s also picking up the pieces and plans on returning to the bench, where she strives to be a better judge.
“I’m gonna strive every morning to be the best person that I could be,” she 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.”
With information from ABC News.