Months after the wildfires in Gatlinburg and Sevier County, officials are finally releasing records like 911 calls and video footage to the media as a result of an open records request.
Fourteen lives were lost the night of November 28, 2016, hundreds were injured or lost their homes, and thousands fled in fear for their lives. We know any stories we air about the disaster bring back the pain and the panic they felt that evening.
10News employees have spent hours going through these records, looking for fresh insight and information as to what happened that night, how it happened, and what steps can be taken to prevent another tragedy. We have made a conscious effort to only use elements like 911 calls and police dash camera footage to advance the story in those ways, or to highlight the many heroes who helped save lives that night. We have not and will not intentionally air emergency calls made by anyone who lost their life as a result of the fires.
Grant Reed lost his daughter-in-law and grandchildren that night, and we will keep all of this in mind as we move forward in our coverage of the wildfires. He released the following statement:
For those of us who have been forever scarred by the Gatlinburg Wildfire of November 28, 2016, the releasing of information over the last couple of days has flooded us with the painful memories of the tragedy. Nine months after my son Michael Reed lost his wife Constance and daughters Chloe and Lily he remains extremely fragile. From my personal perspective I continue to have trouble comprehending what has happened, let alone being able to understand what pain Michael lives through every day.
We have sheltered him as best we can from the happenings of the last couple of days. We believed that once the documents are reviewed that answers will come to our questions about why they were never told that it was necessary to evacuate. After that we felt the story would fade away to other events.
And then along comes WATE. To what end does a television station believe it necessary to air details of an autopsy? And even more horribly the 911 call that my daughter in law made that night along with the calls of others who perished that night? What purpose does it serve?
WATE has now created a public and permanent record of that evening. Will it be tomorrow or in 20 years that my son Michael or grandson Nicholas or any of the others that lost someone that night stumble upon it? And how will it impact them at that time? All for a moment of sensationalism. I applaud the other news outlets that exercised discretion in not airing these very personal moments in this tragedy. I challenge WATE to actually show some discretion and compassion in reporting future tragedies that unfortunately will eventually come to others.