A man who searched desperately for his wife and daughters, only to learn they had died in Gatlinburg’s recent fires, has a message of hope and forgiveness — for the two juveniles charged with aggravated arson in the case.
“Forgiveness isn’t for you,” Michael Reed wrote to the two unnamed suspects in a message posted Thursday on Facebook and made available by his family. “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.”
“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.”
Separated by blaze
As the wildfires reached the family’s Gatlinburg home late last month, Reed became separated from his wife and daughters. He and his 15-year-old son took the family vehicle to see what side of the road the fire was burning on. He said they got stuck in traffic when he received a call from his wife, Constance.
He said he rushed home to discover “the road was on fire and every house was engulfed in flames.”
Reed searched for them for days until authorities confirmed they had died.
‘My wife and beautiful girls forgive you’
In addition to Constance Reed and Chloe, 12, and Lily, 9, there were 11 other people killed in the fires and more than 175 injured, according to officials.
Michael Reed wrote the suspects that countless lives had been changed.
“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. …”
“It is up to you to seek God’s forgiveness,” he wrote. “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.”
Additional charges against the juveniles are being considered, and the case could be transferred to adult criminal court.
Reed’s post was picked up by the Gatlinburg Fire Missing or Found Facebook group, which worked to reunite families.