GATLINBURG, Tenn. — A Tennessee man whose wife and two daughters died in the fires that recently consumed Great Smoky Mountains National Park and neighboring Gatlinburg has released a letter forgiving the teens who allegedly started the blaze.
Michael Reed spent days searching for his wife Constance, and daughters, Chloe and Lily, after the fire ripped through Sevier County last month. He hoped they were still alive, but discovered that they didn’t make it through the inferno that consumed their neighborhood.
According to reports, Reed and his teenage son Nicholas heard about the fires while on the road, and tried to hurry back to Gatlinburg to reach the rest of the family. However, they found themselves stuck in traffic and police would not let cars turn around for their safety’s sake.
In the meantime, Reed received a call from his wife, who said she could see the flames not far from their home. He told her to call 911 and to flee the area.
When Reed was able to return, he found his home completely destroyed, but thought he saw signs that his wife and daughters had escaped. He looked for them in area shelters, but they were not there.
Days later, Reed devastatingly learned that authorities had found his wife’s body, and reports state that two others were found next to her—who are believed to be the couple’s daughters.
Earlier this month, two teenagers, ages 15 and 17, were arrested and charged with aggravated arson. They are accused of dropping lit matches along Chimney Tops Trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, starting the blaze that destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 14.
On Thursday, Reed penned an open letter to the teens, expressing that he has forgiven them despite the pain, and vowing to pray for them.
“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,” he wrote. “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,” Reed continued. “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.”
He told reporters that he has chosen to forgive because Christ has forgiven him.
“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 I 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.”