Shiela Bywaters is one tough cookie.
She owns weapons, rides “1,200-pound horses” and cares for her ailing dad, a former wrangler who used to break racehorses. And she raises her daughter, now a college student, to be just as strong.
She would need all of that fortitude a year ago this month when four teens — including the son of former Nebraska State Treasurer Shane Osborn — barreled into her home near 122nd Street and West Dodge Road.
Chaos ensued. In “mama-bear mode,” Bywaters shoved one intruder to keep him from her daughter. He punched her in the chest. She kept pushing back until, finally, he lowered his shoulder and rammed her down a flight of stairs.
A concussion and a nearly-broken back later, Bywaters survived that night.
And then, in court this week, the plucky 52-year-old did the strongest thing she could: She forgave the teens, one by one, calmly telling them she hopes they straighten out their lives.
“I hate seeing them get prison,” Bywaters said. “I mean, I understand why. They caused a lot of pain and heartache. But in order to rehabilitate yourself, you have to be forgiven. I wanted them to know that.”
Bywaters wasn’t the only forgiving soul in court Thursday.
In the bizarre crime spree — which saw Osborn’s son wearing a rainbow-colored wig of dreadlocks — the same group of teens had broken into another house less than an hour before they ransacked Bywaters’ home.
That Sept. 3, 2015, evening, the other homeowner, Scott Chandler, fought off the group of intruders at his front door near 152nd Street and Bauman Avenue in northwest Omaha. They left but not before smashing the glass of his front door.
Like Bywaters, Chandler forgave each teen. He urged them to get “faith-based substance-abuse treatment.”
Douglas County District Judge Horacio Wheelock was a little less forgiving.
Wheelock noted that the teens could have come to their senses after their first “home invasion.” Instead, they doubled down on their crime spree — terrorizing Bywaters in her home.
“There was no excuse for this level of violence,” Wheelock told one of the teens. “This could have been way worse.”
The then-18-year-olds shared tenuous bonds. Some attended Douglas County West High School; some, including Osborn, grew up in Norfolk; some met at Boys Town.
One teen, Brandon Godden, developed a grudge over a series of texts he had exchanged with Chandler’s teenage son.
So Godden rallied his friends — Avery Osborn, Brandon Nicholls, Erik Griffith and Rolf Ngudia — to ambush the younger Chandler. They stopped at Walmart and bought gloves and rags to cover their faces.
The teens rang the doorbell at the Chandlers’ home. Chandler yelled, “What are you doing?” and blocked the entryway.
The young men fled. During the confrontation, Nicholls broke the glass in Chandler’s storm door.
Instead of realizing the futility of what they were doing, prosecutor Jameson Cantwell said, the teens decided to try to settle another grudge.
Bywaters’ teenage daughter had broken off a relationship with Ngudia the year before.
So, led by Ngudia, the boys headed to her house. The teens later told investigators they thought they might find marijuana there.
They parked about a block away, climbed on Bywaters’ garage roof and broke into an upstairs bedroom.
From the basement, Bywaters and her then-17-year-old daughter raced upstairs only to be shouted back down by the masked intruders.
Bywaters then confronted Godden as he made his way down the stairs.
Bywaters said she was shocked but tried to stay calm, fearing for her daughter and her 74-year-old father, who suffers from dementia and was in his upstairs bedroom.
So Bywaters played dumb, continually asking, “What’s going on here?”
Godden punched her in the chest. She pushed him back up the stairs.
He then “bum-rushed her” — knocking her off her feet and into a low-hanging ceiling over the stairs.
She lost consciousness as she fell down seven steps, “flat-backing” onto a basement landing.
“Before anything else happened, I was up again,” she said. “And that’s when I really got upset. I’m thinking, ‘OK, now we’re not pretending anymore. We’re fighting.’ ”
Godden, strung out on drugs, kept telling Bywaters’ daughter, ‘We’re not going to hurt you.’ ”
He then cornered Shiela Bywaters, clenched his fist and punched his hand through a door behind her. Bywaters and her daughter started pushing him up the stairs again.
“He was pretty mad that he was literally being forced out by two women,” Bywaters said.
Meanwhile, the other teens were rifling through the house. They stole the daughter’s backpack, then smashed doors, sliding glass doors and flat-screen TVs.
They then took off. That’s when Bywaters’ daughter channeled her mom’s pluckiness.
She chased after the teens and saw them hop into a gold-colored SUV with distinctive paper license plates with “Norfolk” on them. She later relayed that vehicle description to police.
Meanwhile, Chandler’s son gave police Godden’s name, noting that he had talked about burglarizing homes before.
The next day, Douglas County sheriff’s deputies traveled to Norfolk to interview Godden and Griffith at the pizza shop where they worked. As they did, Osborn pulled up in a gold SUV with paper license plates.
Inside the SUV: bandannas, a hat with fake dreadlocks and the backpack stolen from Bywaters.
“You just want to shake them,” Bywaters said. “If you’re going to be a criminal, just don’t be so stupid.”
In court last week, each teen turned and faced Bywaters and Chandler. They all wore sheepish looks as they uttered some variation of “I’m sorry.”
The teens — all of whom pleaded to felony attempted robbery or burglary charges — faced a maximum of 20 or 40 years in prison.
Only Osborn’s parents didn’t attend his hearing. Parents and relatives of the other defendants packed the courtroom. The fathers of three defendants cried. One described himself to the judge as “a failed father.”
Avery Osborn, who was the first to fully cooperate with prosecutors, was sentenced to the equivalent of six months in jail and four years of probation.
Nicholls was sentenced to two to four years in prison — equivalent of one to two years.
Ngudia, who led the teens to Bywaters’ house, was sentenced to six to eight years in prison — which is three to four years under state law.
Godden was sentenced to eight to 10 years in prison — which is cut in half to four to five years.
Nicholls’ voice shook as he noted that he is now a father.
“I’m sorry for breaking into your home and violating your space,” he told the victims. “I regret it every day.”
Bywaters said the violation is real.
“It affects everything,” she said. “You know those little sounds in the house that just come with a house? You don’t have the luxury of ignoring them anymore. Everything has to be investigated.”
Bywaters praised Douglas County deputies and Omaha police investigators for nabbing all five teens. (Griffith, the fifth teen who stayed in the car during the robberies, is going through a court diversion program.)
Bywaters credits her daughter, too.
“What this really is about is, ‘How are you going to handle it — are you going to give into fear from now on?’ ” Bywaters said. “I wanted to use this bad experience to empower my daughter and make her stronger.”
Strong enough to forgive.
“Maybe it will put these guys on the right path,” Bywaters said. “Maybe they have seen a light. I’m not sure. I hope so.”