The federal judge targeted by an anti-feminist lawyer has spoken of the moment she watched her son die in the doorway of her family home.
As her husband keeled over with a gunshot wound, US District Judge Esther Salas got to the floor next to her 20-year-old son, Daniel Anderl, when she lifted his shirt and saw the bullet hole.
“Mark managed to crawl back and we were both just watching him fade away,” she said in an interview with Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts.
Ms Salas and her husband Mark Anderl, who is expected to make a full recovery, said they have forgiven the man who killed their only child.
Disgruntled men’s rights attorney Roy Den Hollander is suspected of intending to kill Ms Salas when her son answered the door of their New Brunswick, New Jersey, home on 19 July.
The 72-year-old, who is believed to have been hunting down his enemies after a cancer diagnosis, was found dead in an apparent suicide a short time after going to Ms Salas’ home disguised as a FedEx driver.
“Danny was downstairs talking to me. He said, ‘keep talking to me mom, I love talking to you.’ And it was at that exact second that the doorbell rang,’ Ms Salas said.
“Before I could tell him, ‘let Dad handle it’, he shot up the stairs. And the next thing I hear is, ‘boom’. Then I hear, ‘no’. Then I hear a series of bullets.”
After running upstairs, she saw her son lying by the door holding his chest and her husband on his hands and knees out on the front porch, where he had crawled to see the licence plate of the gunman.
It was at that moment they watched their son fade away.
“Danny was the love of our life from the moment he was born. We struggled to have a baby. I had four miscarriages, three before him. One after him. From the moment that little boy came to this world, he was the centre of our universe,” Ms Salas said.
That universe was destroyed by Mr Den Hollander.
A men’s rights attorney who once sued bars and nightclubs for offering “ladies’ nights”, Mr Hollander previously had a case before Ms Salas in the US District Court challenging the military’s male-only draft.
In 2019, Ms Salas dismissed the argument that a male-only draft requirement deprived women of due process, but allowed another one – that a male-only draft deprives women of “equal protection of the law” — to proceed, but with Mr Den Hollander removed from the case.
He ranted about Ms Salas in his online manifestos – calling her a hot, lazy and incompetent “Latina Judge” appointed by Barack Obama – before he went on his quest for revenge, which investigators believe included the murder of a rival attorney in California.
“I know that he hated me because I was a woman. He hated me because I was Latina. And that was the source of hate. I had the ‘nerve’ to become a judge,” Ms Salas said.
“We play it back. ‘What if I would’ve stopped him?’ The what-ifs. But after that FBI debriefing, there’s peace. If he didn’t do it that day, he was going to do it.”
Ms Salas wants her son’s death to have meaning, and in August released a video statement calling for better protections as she campaigns for a solution to safeguard the privacy of federal judges.
As for Mr Den Hollander, he has been forgiven.
“From the moment I did that, I felt lighter. You know, hate is heavy. Love is light,” Ms Salas said.
“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. My son gave his life for his father and I.”
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