Day of Hope remembers fallen
HUNTINGTON -- Although the message at Saturday's seventh annual Day of Hope Community Worship Service was that of healing the past and hope for the future, it's just not that easy for Subrina Gebhardt and Theressa Baker Dillon.
Their children, Megan Poston and Michael Dillon, were murdered May 22, 2005, outside a residence at 1410 Charleston Ave., along with Eddrick Clark and Donte Ward.
The mothers said after the service Saturday that healing has been difficult because the case remains unsolved eight years later.
"Every day is hard for us," Gebhardt said. "It's always hard because we don't know who killed our babies."
The murder of the four teens is what led to the Day of Hope service, which has always been about bringing comfort to families and proclaiming the hope found in Jesus.
That was at the heart of the sermon by Pastor Darrell Buttram from Tenth Avenue Church of God, who said people need to accept God's mercy in the moment for the healing to take place, and then hope for the future can be planted.
"It doesn't make sense. And it's not supposed to make sense," Buttram said of any violent crime. "But we can always trust in God for the mercy to make it through each day."
After a passionate sermon about God's mercy from the Old Testament, he told the crowd that their tears can be joined with jubilation and their weeping can be combined with shouts of joy.
"Arise with a shout that lets the city of Huntington know, yes, we've had violence, but God's mercy goes on forever," Buttram said.
One man who could identify with the pain felt by the families of the teens slain is William Smith, the superintendent of Cabell County Schools. Smith, who was given the Stephen L. Ferguson Memorial Award on Saturday, said he could personally identify with those families because his sister was killed in the same manner in 1988.
She was a teacher in Detroit and was driving back home for the holidays when a vehicle from behind kept blinking its lights. After she stopped, the driver came to her window and shot her. The man had been on a killing spree, and Smith's sister became one his victims.
Fast forward to the morning of May 22, 2005, when Smith was informed about the students' deaths as he was preparing for Sunday school. He was interim superintendent at the time and had only been on the job two months. But he said Saturday that he understood that day why he was at the helm when those deaths occurred.
"It made me the right superintendent at the right time when that happened," Smith said, adding that he understood what the families and friends were going through. "The senselessness of it and not having answers ... but the positive is the reason why that person was in your life. God sends people in our lives for a season; they're not designed to be here forever."
Skip Holbrook, the chief of the Huntington Police Department, reminded the crowd that each victim has moms and dads, friends and relatives who mourn that loss, regardless of a person's past.
"There's a high degree of tragedy with any violent crime," Holbrook said, who noted that violent crime has declined in recent years. "One is too many as far as I'm concerned."
A candlelight service also was held Saturday evening at Huntington First Church of the Nazarene.
About twenty people gathered to light candles for the victims, including a candle for Samantha Burns, a Marshall University student who was abducted and murdered in November 2002, and Leah Hickman, a Marshall student whose body was found in December 2007.
Mary Lyons, who helped organize the vigil, and she said her son went to school with Dillon.
"It was just something to do for their families," said Lyons. "We know there is no way these families will ever have a complete sense of peace because their lives have been changed forever, but we hope that they are able to find a sense of peace knowing that their children won't ever be forgotten."
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