Interview: Emanuel Olson

Saturday, April 21, 2012 - 1:45 p.m.

The witness, Pastor Emanuel Olson, was the Brandts' pastor in Biloxi. The interview was conducted at the Biloxi Police Department and was recorded on a portable tape recorder with the witness's knowledge and consent.


Detective Murphy: Would you please state your name and address for the record?

Pastor Olson: Yes. I'm Pastor Emanuel Olson, and my address is 8308 West Oaklawn Road, right here in Biloxi.

Detective Murphy: Thank you, Mr. Olson.

Pastor Olson: Please, if you would refer to me as Pastor Olson, I would appreciate it. I am called to serve the Lord.

Detective Murphy: Yes, of course. I apologize.

Detective Armstrong: Pastor Olson, we'd like to talk about the Ronald Brandt family.

Pastor Olson: A very sad and tragic case. Very sad.

Detective Armstrong: Why do you say that, Pastor?

Pastor Olson: Well, the hurricane was terrible for everyone, and they had personal tragedies as well.

Detective Murphy: For example?

Pastor Olson: Losing their daughter to SIDS. That was very hard for the family. They hadn't yet recovered by the time they were forced to leave the area due to the storm.

Detective Murphy: You spoke of tragedies in the plural.

Pastor Olson: The family had many of what people now call "issues." When a family is troubled, the slightest setback can turn into a tragedy.

Detective Armstrong: Did you ever question the diagnosis of SIDS versus, say, neglect?

Pastor Olson: Ronny and Heather are challenged by their responsibilities.

Detective Armstrong: How so?

Pastor Olson: I cannot break confidence, you understand, but Ronald was coming to me for counseling. He did not want to become the abusive father his father had been.

Detective Armstrong: Were you able to help him?

Pastor Olson: We were working through his experiences.

Detective Murphy: Did you ever consider that Ronny was responsible for Gracie's death?

Pastor Olson: He swore he did not kill his daughter. Still, he was haunted by the thought that, in a moment of rage, he might.

Detective Armstrong: Did he have a lot of these "moments of rage"?

Pastor Olson: I couldn't say.

Detective Murphy: Did you ever meet with the whole family or with Ronny and Heather together? Or was it always Ronny alone?

Pastor Olson: I met with all of them from time to time. Some things they needed to work through as a family. Other things Ronald and Heather needed to work through together as a married couple or as parents.

Detective Armstrong: Were they having trouble as parents?

Pastor Olson: Everyone has trouble parenting from time to time.

Detective Murphy: Did you ever sense that RJ was abused?

Pastor Olson: RJ was crushed by what happened with Gracie. He accepted neither her death or its place in God's plan. Unfortunately, his parents were not able to guide him because they so desperately needed guidance themselves.

Detective Armstrong: Did they abuse their son?

Pastor Olson: If I had proof of something like that, I would have reported it, as I am bound to do by both Man's Law and God's Law.

Detective Murphy: Did Ronny ever mention debts to you?

Pastor Olson: I know he was troubled by many things.

Detective Murphy: Do you know of somebody called Ox?

Pastor Olson: He is an evil man, spawning misery.

Detective Murphy: We hear that Ronny owed him money.

Pastor Olson: I would not be surprised.

Detective Murphy: Is Ox the type to follow Ronny up north to threaten him?

Pastor Olson: Ox is capable of anything, I believe.

Detective Armstrong: When was the last time you saw the Brandt family?

Pastor Olson: It's been a few months ago now. They come back from time to time to visit.

Detective Murphy: To visit you?

Pastor Olson: I wouldn't say to visit me in particular. They have friends here. Gracie Lou is buried here.

Detective Murphy: Did Ronny or the family continue to see you for counseling after they moved to Oxford?

Pastor Olson: I saw the family from time to time after they moved, more initially. I haven't seen them as much in the last few years.

Detective Armstrong: But you did see them a few months ago.

Pastor Olson: I believe the family was in town, but I only saw Ronny.

Detective Armstrong: Was that a friendly visit or did he come to you for counseling?

Pastor Olson: Detective, you know I can't talk about that. Even if I could, I couldn't tell you. Ronny seemed upset about something, but he wouldn't talk about it.

Detective Armstrong: Why did he come to see you then?

Pastor Olson: I honestly don't know. I prayed the Lord would touch Ronny's heart and give him the courage to share his burden, but the Lord does things in His own time.

Detective Murphy: When was the last time you saw the whole family?

Pastor Olson: I'm not sure. It's been a few years now.

Detective Murphy: So Ronny is the only one who's still seeking you out for counseling. Heather and RJ don't need it anymore?

Pastor Olson: I can only assume that Gracie has helped them heal their wounds.

Detective Murphy: I thought you said they'd never gotten over her.

Pastor Olson: The second Gracie.

Detective Armstrong: What do you mean?

Pastor Olson: The second girl they had.

Detective Murphy: Pardon our confusion, but this is the first we've heard of a second female child.

Pastor Olson: Is she no longer with them?

Detective Murphy: As far as we're aware, they have just the one child, RJ. You're saying different?

Pastor Olson: Yes, Gracie. She must be four or five by now.

Detective Armstrong: Speaking with all respect, Pastor, are you sure you not thinking of the girl who died of SIDS?

Pastor Olson: I can appreciate your confusion. I never did quite understand why they named their second girl Gracie as well. I'm not sure if they were trying to ward off evil or reject it or simply deny its existence. You say she's not with them?

Detective Murphy: Not that we know of.

Detective Armstrong: Pastor Olson, it might take us a moment here to catch up. Is it possible this second Gracie didn't survive Katrina?

Pastor Olson: Oh, no. She was born after the storm, after the family moved to Oxford.

Detective Armstrong: You're absolutely sure about that?

Pastor Olson: I‒ I don't know. I never had any reason to doubt it before, but then I never met the child myself. I suppose I could've misunderstood.

Detective Murphy: I think Detective Armstrong and I need to discuss this before we proceed. Thank you so much for your time, Pastor Olson. We might wish to talk with again later, if that's acceptable.

Pastor Olson: I would be more than happy to help in any way that I may.

Detective Murphy: And Pastor? We'd really appreciate it if you wouldn't tell anyone in the Brandt family what we've discussed here today.

Pastor Olson: I understand. Well, I don't understand, but I understand your request. I won't discuss it with anyone.

Detective Murphy: Thank you.

Interview ends: 2:07 p.m.