GATLINBURG, Tenn. (BP) — A Gatlinburg, Tenn., man who lost his wife and two daughters in the wildfires that swept through the area has extended forgiveness publicly to two juveniles suspected of starting the blaze.
Michael Reed — whose wife Constance, 34, and daughters Chloe, 12, and Lily, 9, died at their home Nov. 28 — wrote about the tragedy in a Facebook post reported by various media outlets. “I forgive you,” he wrote. “My son forgives you … We know you didn’t mean for this to happen. We know you would take it all back if you could.
“We will pray for you. Every day. We will pray for your parents and your family members,” Reed stated in a Dec. 15 open letter to the suspects. “Every day. We will pray for your peace. We will show you grace. Why? Because that’s what Jesus would do. Faith … Hope … Love … The greatest of these is love.”
The suspects’ arrests were announced Dec. 7. Their names and genders have not been released.
According to Knoxville’s WBIR television, Reed and his son Nicholas went for a drive Nov. 28 and didn’t realize how close the fire was to their house until Constance Reed called to report flames across the street. The couple expressed their love for one another on the phone, and Michael told Constance to call 911.
They never spoke again. The three deaths were announced at a press conference Dec. 3.
WBIR reported Dec. 4 that the entire family attended Parkway Church of God in Sevierville, Tenn., and “all accepted Christ into their lives this past month.”
Parkway Pastor Philip Morris declined to be quoted for this story, but he confirmed that all five Reeds joined Parkway Oct. 30. He also noted that a requirement for church membership is a credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Reed told the Knoxville News-Sentinel he believes his wife and daughters would want him to forgive the two suspects.
“If you live your whole life holding a grudge against everybody who has ever hurt you, then you will be lonely the rest of your life,” Reed said. “The true definition of a Christian is doing the right thing when nobody is looking. I hurt and can be angry with them. This is not how our life was supposed to be. But if Jesus has forgiven me and my neighbors for our sins, I have to follow in His footsteps.”
Reed’s open letter is posted on the “Gatlinburg Fire Missing or Found” Facebook page. It apparently also appeared on his personal Facebook page, but the News-Sentinel told BP Reed’s page currently is offline.
“As I learned of your arrests last week I sat in silence for a long time,” Reed wrote. “You may be too young to understand this, but even through this tragedy I can feel God with me and my son.
“… As humans, it is sometimes hard to show grace. We hold grudges. We stay angry. We point the finger and feel we have to lay the blame somewhere. It’s human nature and completely understandable. But I did not raise my children to live with hate. I did not teach my girls or my son to point the finger at others. John 8:7 says ‘Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.’
“Forgiveness isn’t for you,” Reed stated. “It’s for me. It’s for my son. It’s for Constance, Chloe, and Lily. It is for this community who lost so much in this tragedy.”
According to media reports, the fire started Nov. 23, killing at least 14 people and destroying more than 2,400 homes and businesses.