By Samantha Williams
On Thursday night the UNLV chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ welcomed Dan Nicholls, the best friend of "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz.
He addressed an audience of students and faculty, speaking on the life and redemption of the infamous killer.
The small attendance allowed for personal interaction with Nicholls, and his message brought some to tears.
Despite the serious nature of the lecture, he began half-jokingly. "David wished he could have been here tonight, but he couldn’t make it," he said. "He’s doing 365 years in prison."
Nicholls met Berkowitz in 2004 through a prison ministry and was very familiar with the shootings. A retired social studies teacher, he said he jumped at the chance to meet a well-known, albeit infamous, public figure.
In the late 1970s, Berkowitz unleashed a reign of terror on New York City that received international media coverage. Beginning in 1976, a series of shootings erupted. The primary targets of the shootings were brunette women.
Berkowitz used a rare .44 caliber Bulldog pistol, leading the press to dub him "the .44 Caliber Killer."
He was also known for leaving handwritten letters at the scenes of his crimes that referred to himself as the "Son of Sam," a name that referenced his neighbor Sam Carr.
By early 1977, police still had no suspects or substantial leads and varying reports gave skewed descriptions of his appearance. However, later that year on Aug. 2, Cecilia Davis, who lived near the crime scene where two of Berkowitz’s victims were shot, stepped forward.
She claimed to have seen a man remove a parking ticket from a yellow Ford Galaxie mere minutes before the shooting.
Police found that the ticket was given to Berkowitz but were under the impression that he was just an important witness. When they arrived to investigate, his car was parked outside and a .44 caliber Bulldog pistol was found, along with maps to the crime scenes and handwritten letters.
When Berkowitz emerged from his apartment building a few hours later, police were waiting to arrest him. On June 12, 1978 he was sentenced to six life sentences to be served in Attica Correctional facility in upstate New York.
After telling the story of the horrific killings, Nicholls spoke about the period after Berkowitz was caught. It was a dark time for Berkowitz, leading him to contemplate suicide several times.
Ten years later, he found Christianity when a fellow inmate named Rick befriended Berkowitz and introduced him to Christ.
At first, Berkowitz was hesitant. He believed there was no way God could love a man like him. However, his friend was persistent and gave him a pocket bible to read on his own. Nicholls said that after Berkowitz read Psalms 34:6, the Lord "touched him heard him, and saved him from all his troubles."
Toward the end of the lecture, a video was played that showed Berkowitz as he was before finding Christianity and as he was after, explaining that a noticeable difference could be seen in his look and demeanor.
"I don’t know the ‘Son of Sam,’ I know the ‘Son of hope,’" Nichols said. "I don’t think I’ve met a man more godly than him."
Through his story, Nicholls said he hoped to bring others to the Lord.
That reason alone, he said, is what his message is all about.
"If God can save David, he can save anybody," he added.
At the end of the presentation, a letter from Berkowitz himself was distributed to the audience. In an excerpt from the letter, he wrote, "Jesus has filled my heart with hope and peace and with a deep love for everyone. And if he did this for me, he will do it for you, too."
Berkowitz now has an online journal, maintained by a church group that can be accessed by going to ariseandshine.org.
He has also written a book called "Son of Hope," with which he receives no money from publication and a portion of the profits goes to the New York state crime victims board for distribution to the victims of his crimes.