Man who lost family in Gatlinburg fire pens open letter forgiving arson suspects

(Courtesy: Michael Reed via WATE)
(Courtesy: Michael Reed via WATE)

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – A man whose wife and two daughters were killed in the Gatlinburg fire late last month wrote an open letter to the two juveniles accused of starting the fire – forgiving them.

Michael Reed’s wife Constance and daughters Chloe and Lily were identified as among the 14 people killed in the fire nearly a week later. The father and husband spent days searching for his loved ones, hoping they would be found alive.

MORE: Complete coverage of the Sevier County wildfire

Reed said in the open letter to the suspects, which was posted on Facebook, that many people ask him what they can do to help, but the answer is always the same.

“Love those closest to you a little stronger. Hold them a little tighter. Don’t take a single moment for granted,” he wrote.

Reed said in the letter it’s sometimes hard to show grace, but he didn’t raise his children to be filled with hate and wants to forgive.

“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,” he said.

Two juveniles are accused of starting the fire on November 23 that spread to Gatlinburg and the surrounding area five days later.

More than 2,400 buildings were damaged or destroyed and 14 people were killed. The damage in Sevier County is estimated to exceed $500 million.

Full text of Michael Reed’s letter:

To the 2 teenagers who started the wildfires…

People stop me on the streets every day 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.

Faith…Hope…Love…

The greatest of these is Love.