The tragedy at Smith Mountain Lake

Published 8:51 am Thursday, September 10, 2015

Smith Mountain Lake on the southwest corner of the Lynchburg District of the United Methodist Church is my district.

August 26 was a beautiful summer morning at Bridgewater Plaza overlooking the lake. Alison Parker and Adam Ward were on assignment for WDBJ TV out of Roanoke to do an early morning interview with Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce for Smith Mountain Lake.

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What started as a routine interview ended in horror as both journalists were shot and killed and Vicki Gardner severely wounded by a disgruntled former employee of the television station. Within a few hours, the shooter was spotted on an interstate near Northern Virginia where he shot himself and within hours died.

Alison Parke, who grew up in Martinsville, was described by many as “a bright shining light.” Adam Ward, from nearby Salem, played on the high school football team and attended Virginia Tech. Adam was engaged to a morning show producer, and they were days from moving to Charlotte, N.C. Two young professionals with everything to live for cruelly murdered on live TV!

Vicki Gardner, another “bright light” in the Smith Mountain Lake community, was executive director for the Chamber. Vicki was rushed to surgery, came through successfully and is expected to have a full recovery.

Jack Philips, a friend of Vicki, said, “I’m emotionally exhausted. Today’s shootings within five miles of our home has caused alternating periods of great anger and deep sorrow. Thankfully our friend Vicki Gardner appears to be out of danger, but she lost a kidney and her spleen. The two news people from WDBJ lost their lives. As each of these people got ready to go to work this morning, they had no idea that their lives were about to be changed (or ended) shortly. Live each day as you would want to be remembered.”

Visiting another television station in Lynchburg that day to check on friends, I saw professionals crying and offering each other support — and asking each other, “Why?”

Paul wrote in a letter to the Corinthians, “We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.”

Could this be the ultimate lesson from the tragedy at Smith Mountain Lake?

The gospel of John puts it another way: “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hands.”

The tragedy at Smith Mountain Lake reminds us that life is short and unpredictable. Human beings are vulnerable to tragedy, crisis, illness and the consequences of mistakes, mishaps and the evil intentions of others or even self-inflicted wounds.

Yet, in the midst of tragedy there is the ever-present promise of God: You may be hard pressed but you will not be crushed. God gives you the promise of eternal life so you will never perish and you will never, ever be snatched out of God’s hands.

LARRY DAVIES is Lynchburg district superintendent of the United Methodist Church. His email address is