The last name on my list was Sherry Plemmons, a 29-year-old woman from Pawtucket, South Carolina. Searching her name led to an article written more than seven years earlier.
She had successfully battled and beaten death before but it had been a Pyrrhic victory.
According to the report, she and her eighteen month old daughter were traveling down a winding, mountainous road. A semi-tractor trailer drifted into her lane, causing her to swerve. She lost control of her car and it flipped over several times, coming to rest at the bottom of a steep embankment. Her daughter was thrown from the car.
Sherry suffered serious injures but managed to get out of the car and crawl up the hill. When she reached the top, she saw her daughter sitting in the middle of the road, apparently okay. Her daughter saw her, raised her arms and called for her. Before Sherry could get to her, another car came around the bend and ran over her little girl.
Her subsequent depression took its toll and it would be years before she would recover. Not only did she have to suffer the loss of her daughter, she had to suffer the loss of her husband.
He could never reconcile in his mind that somehow the loss of their child had not been her fault. He left her and she plunged into an even deeper depression.
With the help of family, friends and years of physical and mental therapy, she slowly began to recover. Understanding that the death of her child and the failure of her marriage had not been her fault had been a long, arduous journey but she had persevered and emerged triumphant.
“The light in her eyes,” as her parents said, “was starting to come back.” She began to socialize and had even started to be comfortable riding in a car. Driving a car again however, was a hurdle she had yet to conquer.
One day while out shopping with friends, on a whim, she bought a raffle ticket from a local high school booster club. The grand prize was an all expense paid trip to Las Vegas.
When she won, although vehemently denied, it was suspected that the drawing had been rigged in her favor. It was the first thing she had ever won and she was determined to go and go alone. He parents begged her to ask a friend to go along but Sherry reassured them by saying she needed to get used to doing things by herself.
As she was ready to board the plane, she laughed and said “don’t worry if you never see me again. It’ll just mean my ship came in.”
Many of us associate death with some sort of Divine intervention or design. I believe we need to, in order to make sense of a loss that simply cannot be understood or readily accepted. We don’t want it to be final. We want to know that there is something after.
None of us will escape death but when it comes too soon or by what seems to be unjustifiable means, it calls into question, at least for me, the motives of this so-called merciful God. It makes us question His motives. It challenges our faith.
There are five stages of death. Acceptance is the final stage. Some people reach that stage, while others never do. Those who can’t or won’t are left with a gaping wound in their hearts and become frozen in a world of unanswered questions.
As a reporter, it is my job to tell a story and leave the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the basic who, what, where, when and why. Why has been a question asked by people throughout the ages. For some, the answer to why is the only road to acceptance. We ask but sometimes, acceptance is only realized when we understand that there are and never will be any answers.
The remains of Whisper were slowly and methodically put to rest along with the townsfolk. An entire town was gone, leaving only a footprint of what used to be. A large granite boulder, bearing the image of an airplane and all the names of the victims was placed in what was once the center of town.
These people are gone but they will be remembered. They once lived and loved and laughed. That will be their legacy and it will withstand the test of time.
My stories of just five of the lives lost on that day was reduced to four, as I chose not to include Joshua Beacham. My stories were meant to put into perspective the fact that these were more than names on a victim list. I wanted readers to know them intimately. I wanted readers to question why their lives were extinguished in such a violent manner. I wanted readers to mourn for them as if they knew them personally.
I put the town of Whisper behind me, along with the souls who met their fate that day. I have never returned to the site but I have heard stories of visitors who swear they hear chatter where Leroy’s barber shop used to stand and smell fresh-baked cornbread wafting through the air.
My story of “The Town Of Whisper” won the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism and I became the youngest recipient to date. I now work for a large metropolitan newspaper, where my special interest stories are published weekly.
That event changed my life forever. I still ask why but now I am a little more at ease with the difference between the burning need for answers and the simple act of acceptance.