Walking across the stage at Messiah College today, Kris Sledge accepted his diploma and closed a chapter of his life, one that nearly ended for good in the summer of 2010.
Sledge, who is originally from Selinsgrove, Pa., was the victim of a suicide bombing in Uganda the July after his freshman year of college.
“We were just eating at this restaurant, and little did we know a suicide bomber happened to join us that evening [to] be a part of the celebration,” Sledge said matter-of-factly. “He ended up sitting down at our table.”
That night Sledge was watching the World Cup Final with fellow members of a church volunteer team. They had been working for several weeks to build a security fence at a local school.
“Two minutes before halftime, the bomb exploded,” he said. “I remember walking away and realizing very quickly that my leg hurt really bad, and I couldn't continue walking.”
Seventy-six people died that day, including some of Sledge's Ugandan friends. Sledge had injuries to his lower leg and eye—he couldn't walk for six weeks.
But Sledge doesn't feel bitterness or anger toward the bomber.
“When I think about that man, I have ultimate forgiveness … because I believe he was really manipulated into doing that,” he said.
Sledge said it's perplexing to think about the fact that he could've died that day.
But he knows there's a reason he didn't.
What exactly that is though, he's not sure.
“I force myself not to think about that,” he said. “I don't want to know the reason I am to live and then only do that. I [feel like] it could give me an easy way out , like, 'This is why I lived so I'll do only this,” he said.
After Sledge returned from Uganda, he spent six weeks at Hershey Medical Center getting surgeries and treatment, then a couple months at home healing physically and mentally.
Sledge struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the bombing, which happened at night and in a restaurant—two things that were triggers for a while.
But he met with a counselor for several months, telling his story over and over—and over.
“I explicitly gave details every time,” he said, “so I could become numb to the feelings, so I could talk about the experience like now [and] my emotions, my triggers aren't attached to those words.”
Despite having to take a semester off, Sledge was able to graduate with his class today, something he said was very important to him because those classmates are the people who really helped him heal.
“These are the people who showed up in the midst of my pain,” he said. “They came to the hospital to visit me, they sent me care packages, they sent me letters, they sent me messages on Facebook. That's been my community and I think that's why Messiah has been so helpful for me in this process of healing.”
Now that he's graduated, Sledge plans to live in Harrisburg, commute to Washington D.C. for seminary, and work at a church in Etters.