EATONTON, Ga. — Family members from Florida and as far away as Indiana drove to Eatonton on Monday to remember five of their loved ones who were tragically killed in a plane crash in rural Putnam County Friday afternoon.
A candlelight vigil was held outside the front entrance of the Putnam County Courthouse in downtown Eatonton on Monday night, which drew not only family members, but also several others from the community, including Putnam County Sheriff Howard R. Sills, Putnam County Coroner Cooper Rainey, and Eatonton Mayor John Reid among them.
Everyone who came, including members of Putnam County Fire Rescue and Putnam County Emergency Medical Services, was there to support the family of those killed.
The Rev. Mike Willard, pastor of Bible Fellowship Church in Eatonton, and the Rev. Doug Turner of Grove Chapel in Putnam County, welcomed those who attended the service.
Willard said he told emergency first responders earlier in the day that Putnam County is a special community.
Willard said when firefighters and EMS personnel responded to the emergency call prayers went up immediately from residents throughout Putnam County for the family of those on board the ill-fated flight that claimed the lives of Larry Ray Pruitt, 67, of Morriston, Fla.; Jody Rae LaMont, 43; Shawn Charles LaMont, 41; Jace LaMont, 6; and Alice LaMont, 4, all of Gainesville, Fla.
The pastor said that was part of what makes Putnam County such a special place.
“We want you to know that we embrace you,” Willard told members of the victims’ families. “We don’t understand.”
Willard said it marked the first time that he had ever met many of the grieving members of the family.
“Yet, at the same time, we share a spiritual bond and I can feel that with so many of you, so that’s the bond that will help see us through,” Willard said.
He then prayed aloud.
“Father, we come to you and just asking your blessing upon this time tonight,” Willard said. “Father, it’s been an unusual couple of days, and Father, it’s going to be unusual for some more days. You are the same, yesterday, today and forever, and you are the one that will lock us in. Father, we just put our spirits and our experiences in your hands and ask you to bless this time together in Jesus’ name.”
Rev. Turner of Grove Chapel in Putnam County echoed Willard’s sentiments.
“This is a time that’s hard to grasp, understand and make sense of it, right,” Turner said. “The Bible tells us that God is the God of all comfort. He understands our pain.”
Turner said God understands because he sent his own son, Jesus, to die on the cross for all of mankind’s sins so that all might have life in him.
“Jesus tells us in John, Chapter 14 these words: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you. I’m going there to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also will be where I am. He says you know the place where I am going. Thomas says, Lord, we don’t know where you are going and we don’t know how to find that way. Jesus answered and said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
Turner told those who stood with white candles waiting to be lighted that everyone there was made for eternity.
“In the blink of an eye, in a flash of a moment, lives are taken from us,” Turner said. “The only comfort we have is to say that our savior has gone to prepare a place that after this life we have the promise of life eternity. And he said, ‘I am the God of all comfort.’”
He asked that God be with those who are brokenhearted so that they might find comfort.
Willard told family members of the victims killed that as horrific and tragic as this event has been, there is security in knowing that there was a home awaiting their family members.
“Why now, I don’t know,” Willard said. “Why this tragic event, I don't know, but God has given us the strength and comfort to see these times through. There are two places that comfort is most obvious. One is in God’s power. You know God said when Jesus said I’m going to leave you with the holy spirit, one of the main jobs of the holy spirit is to comfort you. The Old Testament cries out, comfort ye, comfort ye, my people. So, that’s an important part — where we are and who we are. The second part is where you draw comfort from each other.”
Willard told family members there that they had done just that by coming together to comfort one another.
“You have done that,” Willard said. “You’re a family that is like ours, you call frequently. You want to know what is going on.”
Willard told the family there would be times when they will reach for the phone.
“They’ll be times when you hear that ringing, and you’ll think for just that split second…,” Willard said. “Well, you see that’s just a reminder as part of that great gift that God has given us through our memories to be light to each other.”
When Jesus first came, he proclaimed that he was the light of the world. Jesus later told his disciples that they were the light of the world.
“You will be the ones who will bring light to each other,” Willard said. “And now, you will be that light. Understand that even though you are walking through the very valley of the shadow of death, your family no longer walks in that shadow. They now reside in a place where there is no darkness, where there is no need for the sun or the moon. They reside in that place where there is no more crying or dying. They reside in that heavenly place. So for them, life has gotten better, but not for us.”
After the candles were lit, three family members spoke — Kipp Bolin, the husband of Niki Bolin; John Carson, the husband of Tye Carson, of Indiana; and Shayne LaMont, of Riverside, Calif.
They express thanks to the emergency responders for the many prayers they have received from residents in Putnam County.