The fires that devastated the resort town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee killed 14 people and left scores of others injured. Residents are still assessing the loss of property, and the loss of tourism may have a crippling effect on the town’s recovery. Yet one man has lost so much more. Michael Reed’s wife and two daughters were killed in the fire, and he’s written a message to the two boys who started it.
Reed was not home when the tragedy occurred. He was out with his son when his wife called to tell him that the fire was dangerously close to their house. He told her to call 911. When he made it home, the house was on fire. There was no sign of Reed’s wife, Constance, or their two daughters, 12-year-old Chloe and 9-year-old Lily.
Six days later, their bodies were found in the charred remains of the house.
Now Reed has written a letter to the two boys who are believed to have started the fire. The letter was published on the Gatlinburg Fire Missing or Found Facebook page:
“From Michael: To the 2 teenagers who started the wildfires…”
“People stop me on the streets everyday and ask me the same question:”
“What can we do for you?’ My answer has been the same every time:”
“‘Love those closest to you a little stronger. Hold them a little tighter. Don’t take a single moment for granted.'”
“As I learned of your arrests last week I sat in silence for a very long time. You may be too young to understand this, but even through this tragedy I can feel God with me and my son. I have felt my wife and daughters touch me from Heaven. I have seen them give me signs that they are looking down on us. They are happy. They are at peace. They are together.”
“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. It is for me. It is for my son. It is for Constance, Chloe, and Lily. It is for this community who all lost so much in this tragedy.”
“I, as well as countless others, have been changed forever because of your actions. It is up to you to seek God’s forgiveness. I hope someday you can seek it and be at peace.”
“I forgive you. My son forgives you. My wife and beautiful girls forgive 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. Every day. We will pray for your peace. We will show you grace. Why? Because that’s what Jesus would do.”
“The greatest of these is Love.”
The letter is a powerful reminder of what really matters for a father who now has to raise his son, alone.