Less than two weeks after she watched her son’s killer sentenced to prison, Diane De Han sent off a three-paragraph letter to him.

She’d been prepared to hate him or want revenge, but when she saw the 21-year-old homeless man in court, appearing with no one to support him, and heard his confession and apology, it tore at her heart.

“I could just see his suffering. I cried for him,” she said.

So she turned to what she does to keep her son’s memory alive and deal with the loss: She writes. In her letter, she asked Andrew Metzner if he would write back. Then she waited, not knowing what to expect.

Metzner had pleaded guilty earlier this year to first-degree manslaughter for fatally stabbing De Han’s 43-year-old son Marc Sundin in downtown Portland.

Metzner plunged a knife into Sundin’s chest about 2 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2014, after they’d gotten into an argument outside the 7-Eleven on Southwest Fourth Avenue and Taylor Street. Sundin was drunk, and Metzner and his friend said Sundin had touched one of their bicycles.

De Han typed the letter, and began:

“I’m Marc’s mom. I want to express my gratitude for your sincere apology at the hearing…It meant so much.,” she wrote. “I don’t think of you as this mean, bad person but things just got out of hand that night. I know there must have been mixed signals going on…confusion, fear, chemical influence.”

She reminded him that she forgave him and urged him to get help.

“Please know I’m praying for you, that you reach out for those who really want to help you,” she continued.

And she urged him to maintain hope, even while he faces a decade behind bars.

“You’re a very intelligent guy, and there’s everything to hope and live for, even tho (sic) it may not seem so clear right now!”

Finally, she asked him to consider writing back.

De Han has traveled north from her home in California to Portland many times since her son was killed.

The day of his death, she grabbed the next plane out to meet with homicide detectives. She returned and painfully packed up her son’s belongings and donated some of his shoes and clothes to a Portland homeless ministry called Bridgetown Inc.

“It may sound silly, but I take delight that dozens of people are walking around Portland wearing a little piece of Marc…a scarf, a shirt or shoes are keeping them warm,” she said in an interview. “I just want to keep Marc’s memory alive whenever I can.”

She visited the culinary school that he had attended and the last place he had worked, a Portland State University cafeteria. She also came back to Portland to attend several court hearings, including the June sentencing.

Each time, she’d look out the balcony of the KOIN Tower condo where her son had been living with his father. From that perch, she could see the block where Sundin had stumbled, collapsed and died across from Portland City Hall.

On July 13, Metzner wrote a letter back to De Han. He filled one lined white sheet of paper, writing in all capital letters.

“It dismays me so much when I think of October 16th. I really believe I’m only getting better as a person because of Marc,” he wrote.

Metzner said he can’t complain about his circumstances, now an inmate at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla.

“It was my actions that brought me to where I am now, and I take responsibility for the terrible things I have done,” he wrote.

He said he now understands that his mistakes affect others and is thankful he was arrested and taken into custody.

“I want to keep Marc’s spirit alive and present in my life,” he wrote. “Because I’m certain if I become more like his true self, I will keep improving. That is my promise.”

At the sentencing, Metzner’s lawyer, Ernest Warren Jr., said his client was a straight-A student in high school and college in New York, where he studied computer science. He dropped out because of “emotional pain,” and was self-medicating by using heroin and had been living under Portland’s Hawthorne Bridge. The night of the stabbing, though, he was sober, Warren said.

Sundin’s mom said her spirit was lifted when she received Metzner’s letter.

“It’s so gratifying as a parent to see redemption from the tragedy,” she said. “I just didn’t want there to be a chance of not helping a young person find his way.”

When she’s not working as director of a preschool, De Han writes a personal blog in her son’s memory.

“In life you never plan on having a blog in honor of your child, but I’m trying my best,” she wrote to her followers.

“I listen to TV programs where parents talk about their child’s passing and they have some similar responses, but each parent carries out their child’s legacy in different ways. Some people suffer silently, some share in group therapy, some go the legislature to get laws passed … I write.”

“I ‘like’ to share because I still believe I’m on a journey with Marc, I can’t really say ‘goodbye, it’s over,'” she wrote. “I don’t write out of sadness, or defeat but out of joy, & triumph over death. I’m just doing what I feel is natural to honor him.”

–Maxine Bernstein

503-221-8212; @maxoregonian

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