U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas returned to the bench Monday for the first time since her 20-year-old son Daniel was killed and her husband Mark was wounded in a racially motivated assault last summer.
"The return, it is bittersweet in a certain way because I’m returning to a job that I love so much, but also because of this job I lost my only son," Salas said Tuesday in an interview on " Good Morning America." "It’s hard to reconcile those emotions."
"But I can tell you this," she added. "I know Daniel would want me to come back and I know that Daniel would want me to represent all women and Latinas everywhere and come back and show that I am not deterred and I will not be frightened or be afraid to do what I love to do, which is be a United States district court judge."
Daniel, the only child of Salas and her husband, was killed in July when Roy Den Hollander, a self-proclaimed anti-feminist lawyer, posed as a FedEx delivery driver and opened fire at the family's New Jersey home. Salas, who had just hosted a birthday celebration for Daniel, was in the basement at the time and was unharmed.
In a document on his website, Den Hollander wrote disparagingly of several female judges, including Salas, the first Latina to serve on the federal bench in New Jersey, who had presided over one of his cases. Salas appears to have been the target of Den Hollander, according to investigators.
The day after the fatal shooting, Den Hollander, 72, was found dead by police in an apparent suicide, according to investigators.
"One of the things I want to make sure people understand is that I’m moving forward but not moving on," Salas said of her return to work. "Daniel remains with me always, in my heart. In my soul. He is with me."
Since Daniel's death, Salas has focused her grief on enacting change. She was the force behind a piece of legislation, known as "Daniel's Law," that protects the home addresses and contact information of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials from the public.
The legislation was signed into law by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy in November.
Honored to sign Daniel’s Law in remembrance of Daniel Anderl, the late son of Judge Esther Salas.— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) November 20, 2020
Home addresses and private contact information for judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers will now be protected from public disclosure.https://t.co/K7gkEnK7vP pic.twitter.com/aqfINpiFDd
Salas is now calling on Congress to pass a similar piece of legislation, the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, that was first introduced in the Senate late last year. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has said he plans to continue to try to get the bill passed.
Judge Salas’s only child was murdered in her home because she is a Latina woman in a position of power.— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) December 16, 2020
But Republicans just blocked my bipartisan bill making it harder for violent individuals to stalk and kill those who serve on the federal bench. https://t.co/rjBJnd3teU
"I am optimistic that we will see the bill introduced very soon and that together we will see this necessary change happen," said Salas. "I remain optimistic while also remaining committed to the cause and I really do hope to see this happen and hope to see it happen soon."
"I want to make sure that we spare all the men and women that serve on the bench because all we’re doing is our job and we should be protected and we should have laws that protect us and send a strong message," she said.