Amelia Spring Whitlock: 12/21/07 -01/16/17
It was the third Sunday one year ago today (01/15/17) that I received the most devastating call of my life. It was about 5:50 AM I just finished reading my Bible and meditating before getting ready for church. I was printing my Sunday School notes for our lesson that day which was, âWhen Sorrows Comeâ when my daughter called. As a parent you can feel and hear their pain as if it were your own, I could hear hysteria in her voice and all of a sudden she said âDaddy, I need your strengthâ. Shocked by her tone I asked what do you mean? She informed me Amelia, my nine-year old granddaughter, had been cast out of their boat after something had jarred the boat and Charlie her father fell out of the boat not realizing until later the one thing he had grasped to try to hang on to was the throttle which broke off propelling the boat at full speed into a spin. Her father made several attempts to get to her to no avail before nearly succumbing to exhaustion produced byÂ treading water fully clothed in utter darkness and frigid waters. We talk about PTSD for soldiers and police, but what about father who can see his child in danger but is immobilized by the frigid water in the early morn of January. She and her father were returning to the shore to come home from night fishing which they loved to do together.
I fell to my knees in disbelief and with tear-filled eyes uttered a prayer for help. I then shook my wife quickly and said Iâm headed to the lake and she said whatâs the matter,Â I shared what I knew, we called our son and his wife as we were expecting to join the search when we arrived and knew they would want to be there as well. We went by and picked up our son and daughter-in-law and then we were off.
When we arrived at Turtle Cove on Lake Jackson it looked like the set from a movie scene with DNR, Search & Rescue, Ambulances, and the police. My daughter came and clung to me in a mental state of disbelief, terror, and hope that Amelia would be found alive on the shore somewhere that hadnât been searched. She then informed the entourage of law enforcement that Daddy was in charge and to communicate and coordinate everything through him. The next few hours were filled with investigators questioning my daughter and her husband because it involved a missing child. Georgia DNR Law Enforcement had led jurisdiction due to it being a boating incident. There was anger and disbelief in the hearts of my daughter and son-in-law that they would be questioned like that at a time like this. I had to console and help them understand that it is simply the required process and their cooperation would make things go smoother.
After the morning fog lifted a helicopter was brought in and search boats were on the water. Minutes seemed like hours and hours seemed like days as we watched them search. My family and I have a high appreciation for all of the law enforcement, fire departments, search and rescue teams, and the Georgia DNR for their diligence and compassion in a most devastating time. Though they had to separate themselves to accomplish their duties you would see an occasional tear as they felt the pain of parents and grandparents as most were parents or grandparents themselves. After a four-hour search and given the temperature and Ameliaâs body weight our hearts sank as they informed me their mission was now transformed to recovery mode. I gathered everyone around my daughter and son-in-law and we prayed out loud for the rescue and search teams to hear thanking God for them and asking His protection and guidance on them that this ordeal might come to a close quickly.
My family and I cannot begin to express our gratitude to the Turtle Cove Community and several of the surrounding churches for their compassion, their generosity, and their embrace of our family during this tragic ordeal. I wish I could name them all but I would be remiss to leave someone out. Families opened their homes throughout the night to provide facilities, made us coffee, brought us food, setup canopies on the shore for us to sit under, brought blankets to warm us, and most of all adopted us for a few days and embraced our family as one of their own enduring the tragedy.
My daughter and our family were protected from the media and outsiders without compassion by a team of gentlemen who also served as pallbearers for Amelia and I grew to love like sons. Everyone was calling me Pops, including a number of fire and rescue by the end of our tragic week. These gentlemen served as companions and bodyguards to allow the family to deal with everything else. I would be remiss in leaving someone out but they all know who they were and even now when our paths cross we share a firm handshake or embrace of appreciation for each other.
My daughter came to me and asked if I would conduct and be in charge of Ameliaâs funeral for she felt only someone who really loved her and knew her could do her justice. I accepted the challenge with honor and trembling for fear of failing my daughter, my family, and my Lord. As night fell Sunday night no one had the heart to leave so we all bedded down in our cars the best we could to stay out of the frigid winter air coming across the lake at night. To say we slept would be a stretch of the imagination as hearts were shattered and bodies exhausted. Throughout the night you would hear everyone crank their vehicles to knock the chill down or their doors open and close as they would stare at the dim moon beams through the clouds over the lake and though we all were aching we couldnât even begin to fathom what my daughter and son-in-law were going through.
Monday morning at daybreak and army of search and recovery specialist combed the lake with boats and the shores with dogs. We were glued to the scene and would jump up and stare anxiously every time we saw one of them stop and circle an area. We formed circles and prayed for them several times throughout the day for Godâs protection and providence in this ordeal. As the hours passed it seemed like an eternity and it wore on everyone even more without any real rest from the day before. As the sun begin to set the DNR captain came to me and recommended I persuade the family to go home for the night to shower and rest the best they could and he would call me if there was any changes. I spoke with the family and we decided to leave a few at the lake at all times and take shifts. Everyone left between five to six to try to rest and refresh.
My wife and I had no more made it home and undressed to rest a bit for we had the 6:00 AM shift when the DNR captain called and said Mr. Holden, we have recovered the body, please gather the family and meet us at the lake for us to make the official announcement. I called everyone and we got back to the to the lake just before 8:00 PM. With the family all gathered around they came to us and made the announcement that they had recovered Ameliaâs body and she was on the way to the GBI crime lab due to it being an accident involving a child on the water. There was a moment of wailing as the news penetrated our hearts and then my daughter strengthened herself and lifted her hands toward heaven and began with a tearful voice to sing Amazing Grace and within seconds all joined in and lifted their hands and sang the entire song. After the song we banded together and I lifted my voice in prayer praising God for the precious nine years that He shared His precious jewel Amelia with us to brighten our lives and I thanked Him for every person who had a part in assisting our family in the search or through their provisions and asking strength for the week ahead as we prepare to lay Ameliaâs body to rest.
That night we departed and most collapsed in their beds from exhaustion of more than 36 hours on the lake shore. Now that my wife and I were back home I begin to think of the message for the funeral plus my daughter wanted a video of Ameliaâs life for the funeral. Everyone wanted to know how I could be so strong through this and it was because I would weep and pray at home so I could stand in public when my daughter needed me. As I would look through the photos and videos to create the videos for Ameliaâs funeral I would ball like a baby realizing there would be no more summers of her swimming in our pool, no more of her games for me to photograph, as well as many other things I would miss out on.
The next morning I woke early to work on the video and my messages for the funeral. I called the DNR to get a timeline of he release of Ameliaâs body to the funeral home and then I made the appointment with the funeral home to come in and make arrangements and sign the documents for them to receive Ameliaâs body when it was ready. We met my daughter and son-in-law at the funeral home to aid them through the process and as I have done funerals in the past work on the order of the service. My family and I are thankful for the staff at Cannon-Cleveland Funeral Directors in McDonough, Georgia for their compassion and assistance in multiple ways. I had hoped to one day help pick out a car for my granddaughter and never imagined I would be helping select a casket for our baby princess.
Tuesday evening was an awesome event in honor of Amelia. Someone posted on Facebook that they were planning on holding a candlelight vigil for Amelia but no one could find who was organizing it; therefore my wife and I went and purchased a ton of candles and a small karaoke machine for my daughter wanted some of Ameliaâs songs played and I planned a service if no one showed up with one. The family,Pastor Greg Howell of Pine Grove Baptist Church, my wife and I all stood on the pier over the lake looking back at the shore at the multitudes of people. Some of the fire and rescue team showed up to assist with crowd control as an estimation of more than thousand people lined the shore. We sang, shared memories and gratitude for Amelia and for all that were supporting us during this time. I shared a few verses of Scripture and a brief message of hope and comfort that we would see Amelia again. We floated pink carnations in the lake, released pink balloons and Chinese sky lanterns over the lake in memory of Amelia.
The funeral home received Ameliaâs body on Thursday and they were able to prep it for viewing on Friday for a Saturday funeral. I was amazed at the flowers and the number of people who turned out Friday night for the viewing. The number of people who turned out for Ameliaâs funerals on Saturday was mind-blowing: for we filled the largest chapel, the foyer, and the halls. People even stood around the chapel for the service and some who could not get in waited outside to share their condolences. The funeral was non-traditional with it being a childâs funeral and there were many of her classes and friends in attendance so all were dressed in jeans and jerseyâs and the hearse was a monster truck owned by a friend of the family.
I had my daughterâs pastor, also my former pastor and friend,Rev. Greg Howell of Pine Grove Baptist Church in Stockbridge, Georgia to assist and serve as my back-up in case I was unable to make it through the funeral. I felt I messed up the service that day but I had to share what I felt the Lord wanted me to share and I preached on Job. I have always been impressed how Job lost his family, his health, and his wealth but still fell down and worshipped God. Job knew that all he ever had and all that he ever was by the graciousness of a Loving God. One of Jobâs most significant expressions is found in Job 13:15 were he states, âThough he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.â As a result of his faithfulness God restored unto Job more than he ever had before and the daughters that were born unto him after his great trial were the fairest ever on earth.
After the service the pallbearers loaded Ameliaâs body and the precession begin. I could not believe how long the precession was and when we got to I-75 N they had blocked the highway and the exits for the precession. Officers and people who had been following the incident on the news and social media stood by their vehicles to wave as we went by. We arrived at the gravesite and Pastor Howell said a few words and prayed for the family followed by my daughterâs childhood friend and best friend singing Amazing grace while Ameliaâs ball team, the âOla Iceâ, released pink balloons in honor of her. In honor of âFirecracker Ameliaâ with jersey #1 Field three at the Ola Ball Fields has been named after her and bears a plaque with her name.
After the service many asked how was I able to preach my own granddaughterâs funeral? All I can say is like the Apostle Paul I was only strong because of my weakness – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10Â Â â9. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10.Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.â In order to know strength one must know God. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible that I turn to in trials [my spiritual first aid kit] and that is Philippians 4. The entire chapter is filled with wisdom and encouragement from Paul who was under house arrest in Rome. In Philippians 4:13 âI can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.â
As I look back over the past year it has been both one I do not want to repeat but it is one that has changed my life in many ways. It has give me the courage to take up the writing that I often wanted to do but didnât know if anyone would be interested. This tragedy has fostered new friendships and was just one of the seeds that helped foster the Hands United Foundation providing the Giving Hope Fund to families of the Georgia Pest Control Association in times of catastrophic life changing events. Parents and grandparents reading this hug your child today and tell them you love them for you may not get tomorrow because life happens.
Thank you all for your support this past year and may you all have a blessed day.
James 1:17Â Â Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.