The New Year has begun with tears in Georgia. Every day we have heard updates on the missing hiker, Meredith Emerson. The news has gone from bad to horrible. January 1, Meredith Emerson, a 24 year old from Buford, and her dog Ella are last seen hiking on a trail near Vogel State Park. January 2, Emerson's car, water bottle and dog leash are found. January 3, despite bitter cold, nearly 100 police and volunteers search the mountains for Emerson. Gary Hilton, who had been seen hiking in the area, is named as a "person of interest." January 4, Emerson's personal belongings are found in a trash bin in a parking lot in Cummings. There are bloodstains. The dog, Ella, is found alive in a nearby parking lot. Gary Hilton is arrested at a gas station on Ashford Dunwoody Road, while vacuuming out his van. January 5, Hilton is charged with kidnapping and bodily injury and transferred to Blairsville. January 7, Hilton leads police to the Dawson Forest and Wildlife Area in Dawson County, where the body of Meredith Emerson is found. January 8, the autopsy indicates that Emerson died from a blow to the head prior to being decapitated. January 9, Hilton's statement to the police indicates that Emerson was a captive 3 days prior to her murder.
Amidst feelings of anger, nausea, grief and horror, we pray that God will somehow bring comfort to the family and friends of Meredith Emerson. It is hard to understand how a person can be so evil as to do what Hilton has done. By leading investigators to the body, Hilton may have avoided the death penalty, but certainly he will never be free again. The sad reality is that those touched by this tragedy will never be free either. Tears will be shed for Meredith by her family and friends for rest of their lives.
Here is a prayer, written by William Temple (1881-1944), archbishop of Canterbury. "O Lord our God, from whom neither life nor death can separate those who trust in thy love, and whose love holds in its embrace thy children in this world and the next; so unite us to thyself that in fellowship with thee we may always be united to our loved ones whether here or there; give us courage, constancy and hope; through him who died and was buried and rose again for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
John Donaldson is the pastor at Newborn & Mansfield UMC. Send e-mail to