SELMER, Tenn. When a drag racing car slammed into a crowd of people who had lined the street for a parade in southwest Tennessee, leaving at least six dead, several local ministers quickly were on the scene or at the local hospital.
The June 16 tragedy occurred during the Cars for Kids Car Show, an annual charity event in Selmer, which typically draws thousands of people.
According to a report in The Jackson Sun, a professional driver was performing an exhibition burnoutby spinning his tires to make them heat up and smokewhen his car went out of control.
The car was a National Hot Rod Association-approved racecar driven by Troy Warren Critchley of Wylie, Texas, The Sun reported.
As of July 20, no charges had been filed against the driver, according to Mike Browning, a Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman, although several lawsuits had been filed by some of the victims' families.
Blake Carroll, a chaplain for the McNairy County Sheriff's Department, said he had taken his family to a carnival held in conjunction with the car show when he learned about the accident.
Sheriff Ricky Roten informed Carroll about what had transpired and encouraged him to go to McNairy Regional Hospital.
"At that time I did not know the extent of the tragedy," Carroll said. "I did know there had been fatalities."
When he arrived at the hospital, Carroll said the parking lot "looked like a mall at Christmas. People were everywhere."
Other ministers of all denominations began to arrive, immediately ministering to and praying with families affected by the tragedy, Carroll said.
Phil Mitchell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Adamsville, and a volunteer chaplain at the hospital, was called to the hospital by a church member who is a nurse there.
"I had never seen anything like it," Mitchell said. "Seminary does not prepare you for a time like this."
Mitchell accompanied a father to view his 15-year-old daughter who had been killed, recounting, "He told me she had been saved. That was bringing him great peace and hope."
Mitchell said he ministered to patients and families in the emergency room and recalled walking by a big burly man lying on a stretcher and seeing a nurse just holding his hand.
"People were not only injured, they were scared," Mitchell said.
Many people did not have family members with them and some of the patients were unidentified.
"Sometimes a touch is the best thing we can do," Mitchell said.
Carroll noted that most, if not all, of the people at the hospital were in shock. He told of seeing one girl who suffered minor injuries leave the hospital, but then sat down on the steps and began weeping.
"I knelt beside her and asked if I could pray for her," Carroll said. He shared with here the promise of Romans 8:28 and being called for God's purposes.
Carroll, interviewed by national media following the tragedy, said a reporter from CNN asked him how a person ministers in a situation like this.
"I told him that all you can do is to put your arms around the people, tell them that God loves them, and that there is hope and encouragement through Jesus Christ," Carroll said.
Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist & Reflector