When I was twelve years old, the first time I deer hunted with my Dad, he was in a tragic hunting accident. A gentleman mistook him for a deer. A young gentleman, 21 years old, had just got out of the Army. He was hunting with his family. It was the last day of deer season, December 14, 1974. There were about three feet of snow on the ground. My Dad was breaking trail. He was about six feet four. He was a big guy. My brother Dan(fourteen), I (twelve) and my Grand-pap were following behind him. We got down in the woods before daylight. Dad dropped off Dan and put him on a stand and my Grand-pap. Then he dropped me off. Since it was my first time hunting, he said; “Mark, I am just walking down over the bank. I won’t be far off from you. If you need anything just yell.” I saw his flashlight go out of sight. I didn’t know that that would be the last time I'd ever see my Daddy alive. He went down and got nestled underneath a hemlock tree. He got all situated. When it got daylight, this gentleman’s family came in and was doing a deer drive. They were yelling and screaming. Of course, my Dad was looking down over the bank waiting for deer to come up from the bank where he was hunting. This gentleman walked up behind my Dad. My Dad had, we had fluorescent orange vests on, which was not even a state law then but we had them on. My Dad was underneath the hemlock tree and there was only like a pie plate opening. The guy looked over and looked under the hemlock tree and saw black. He thought it was a buck’s nose. It was my Dads long black side-burn. He thought; “Well, that must be a buck.” He waited and watched and the snow would start melting off the tree and it would look like antlers. In this guy's mind, he convinced himself that it was a big buck hiding underneath this hemlock tree. His family, Dad, and parents came closer and were yelling trying to drive the deer. He thought this deer was going to bolt out from under this tree. So he took a careful aim and he shot and he hit my Dad right above the sideburns. He went running over, looked underneath the hemlock tree fully expecting a buck and there lay my Dad.
As a result of that, my Brother and I got very angry. We questioned God. Why He would allow something to happen like that because my Dad was a very Godly man. He was a Sunday school teacher, a Deacon, a Godly husband. For many years, we didn’t understand it. My Brothers biggest complaint was that our next door neighbor was an alcoholic. He would beat his wife and children. His daughter would come over and hide at our house to keep from being beat up by her Father. Then our other next door neighbor was the guy who owned the bar and who sold the alcohol. My Brother would point up to the sky and say; “God you should have taken one of those two guys, not my Dad.”
For many years, we were both bitter and angry at God. Probably eight or ten years after that my Brother went back to Pennsylvania, we moved to Virginia after I graduated from high school in 1980 for both of us to go to Liberty University. One weekend my Brother went back to see my Grandma and there was a gentleman on the porch. He asked my Brother to come over and talk with him. When my Brother walked up he realized it was the gentleman who owned the bar. And in his mind, he thought; “You should have been dead, it should have been you.” The gentleman’s name was Paul. He invited Dan to come up and said; “Dan I need to talk with you.” He went on to tell the story about how every weekend our gardens budded up against each other. My Dad and he would be out there planting in the garden and my Dad would share Christ with him. My Dads best friend was Jesus and he would share Jesus Christ openly with guys on the track team that he was a coach of. As he would teach evolution in his science class, he would teach what he believed about Jesus Christ being the only way to God. He would openly share his faith. Paul’s excuse was always; “I have got plenty of time.” My Dad’s nickname was Walt. He would say; “Walt, I have got plenty of time.” When he got home that day, his wife informed him; “You know who died today? Walt Witt, our next door neighbor.” Paul realized that we don’t have a guarantee of tomorrow. A few weeks later, Paul knelt by his bed and he trusted Jesus Christ to be his Lord and Savior. He sold his bar. He wanted to do whatever he could to share Christ with people, so he would go into nursing homes (three or four nursing homes every weekend) and talk to these older people he said were much closer to dying. He would share Christ the best way he knew how. He would smuggle Bibles into China. He figured people in China didn’t even know about God. He did that and eventually he became a Pastor of a church in this small community near where we grew up in Myersville predominately because of my Dad’s testimony. At that point, we started realizing that God didn’t make mistakes. He is perfect. He never left us.
Through circumstances, we ended up going back to the tree where my Dad was killed. Eddie Nickens who is the writer of the Field and Stream article called “Following our Father” interviewed us. It has now become the number one article ever put in Field and Stream. Two million people have read our story. Thousands of people have come to know Christ through my Dad’s Godly life, Godly example and through our story, our testimony. When Field and Stream called to interview us and they wanted to interview this gentleman. I said; “Well before you do, I want to talk with him.” My Mom met with this gentleman the next day and forgave him. I talked with him and I forgave him and told him that we had moved on and I would love for him to find Christ. I would love for him to meet my Dad one day. He said; “I just can’t forgive myself.” He hasn’t told his own daughters that he shot and killed my Dad. It’s been forty-one years and we are praying that one day his heart will soften up and that he will find Christ and find forgiveness and healing.