Volunteers comfort victims' families
AID AND COMFORT Fredie Carmichael, right, a reporter for The Meridian Star, brings John Willis a bottle of water and talks to him about his uncle, Thomas Willis, one of the five employees who were killed by a co-worker at the Lockheed Martin plant Tuesday. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
July 14, 2003
On Tuesday morning, I bolted out of a Meridian City Council meeting and sped down U.S. 45, headed for Lockheed Martin's plant in the G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery Industrial Park.
Meridian Police Chief Benny DuBose, who generally jokes around with me after the biweekly meetings, had a blank look on his face when he told me what had happened.
That's all the information I had and I was on my way there.
Once I arrived on the scene, I searched for family members to get comments. Most of them were staring up the hill at the plant, wondering what was going on inside, and if their loved ones were OK.
On the street, Bro. John Sweeney, a longtime chaplain and head of Victory Outreach Center in Meridian, bumped into me.
He is already on his way up to the plant to counsel the employees and help out any way he could. There was no time for chit-chat, he had a job to do.
Moments later, I ran into John Willis, a minister from a local church, whose uncle, Thomas Willis, was inside when the shooting began.
John was a big man, with an even bigger heart. He had arrived to help comfort family members of the victims, and quickly learned that his uncle's life was in danger.
I was amazed at how calm he was as he waited to learn the fate of his uncle. He was comforting other people and making sure they were okay. But I could tell he was hurting, too.
I put my arm around him and we talked for a while. About his uncle, about his church and about God.
After our quick break, he was off helping others, again. John found out a few minutes later that his uncle had died.
I was there to report the news, I had a job to do. I tried to hold back the tears, but there was no use.
A few cars away, another minister, Kathy Spells, was comforting Bobby McCall and his daughter, Sanyell. Lynette McCall, Bobby's wife, was working at the plant when the shooting began.
Spells and workers from the nearby Davidson Hauling and A&B Electric passed out drinks and handed out paper towels to McCall and others.
Spells rubbed Bobby's back and tried to calm him down. Bobby, though, was jittery. He wanted to know if his wife was okay.
Spells told him she was praying for him and that God would take care of them. Minutes later, McCall was told his wife was one of those who were killed.
As he broke into tears, Spells and others were there to comfort him.
This is just a piece of the overall picture of all the volunteers who were there to help on Tuesday. Those who, when their community called, were there to answer.
It felt so good to see the people of my hometown, regardless of race, regardless of denomination and regardless of background, come together to help each other.
I must admit, I never thought I would see something like this happen in my hometown. But if it were to ever happen to me, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.