A community looking for hope in the wake of a child’s death this week was urged to follow the boy’s example of loving God, loving other people and being a light.
Before packing the church where 8-year-old Clark Reagan had been baptized for a memorial service Thursday night, members of the community made their support for his family visible by tying blue ribbons throughout Maryville in memory of the boy, who died Monday in what police are calling a murder-suicide.
The citywide memorial effort was spearheaded by Wendy Tittsworth of Just So Paint and Decorating in Alcoa and adopted by schools, businesses and others.
Volunteers associated with the Maryville Downtown Association, Kim Starling and Shelly Robinson spent Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning tying the bright blue decorations to poles, trees and bushes.
Business owners throughout the downtown area and Maryville schools also picked up the spirit of support, attaching ribbons to their storefronts and doorways.
Word of the effort has been spreading rapidly on Facebook, Starling said. “People have been showing pictures, and we’ve given ribbons to all the businesses.”
As she tied a ribbon to a pole, Starling confirmed the outpouring of support was not surprising. “If you grew up in Maryville you knew the Talleys and the Reagans,” she added.
“They were both teachers,” said Robinson, wrapping a ribbon around a potted plant on the Broadway sidewalk. “So schoolchildren know them, and teachers in both schools know them.”
James “Jimmy” Reagan and his son, Clark, died at Blount Memorial Hospital and University of Tennessee Medical Center, respectively, Monday morning after police found them with gunshot wounds in a Savannah Village Drive home.
An inspector alerted emergency services to a potential fire after he saw smoke coming from the home — which was for sale — and heard a smoke alarm.
Breaching the door, responders found the injured father and son lying in a bed.
Though the community has been reeling in the aftershock of the event, Reagan’s wife and Clark’s mother encouraged readers in a Facebook post not to hate her late husband.
“Compassion is the remedy for anger,” the post from Miranda Talley Reagan reads. “This was a mental illness. It’s heartbreaking this will be his legacy.”
She continued, acknowledging the situation was crushing, but that her faith and love from the community were consoling.
Tittsworth said she hoped the ribbons would help, but her personal connection to the situation was also a significant motivation: her two oldest children are Miranda Reagan’s cousins.
“I just wanted to figure out a way to reach out and show support for the family,” she said.
Reaching out ended up turning into a small movement in the town.
After Tittsworth coordinated with Hartman’s Flowers in Maryville, the shop donated 100 yards or so of ribbon, Hartman’s co-owner Amy White said. The shop also made and sold some bows at half price.
Hartman’s quickly ran out of ribbon and a manager at Hobby Lobby confirmed that store also had run out.
“They are out everywhere,” Tittsworth said. She was handing out ribbon at her own store Thursday and said she ran out for only 15 minutes and missed around 20 people wanting to capture a strip of the blue material.
“People just really have taken onto it. They really want to show the Talleys and the Reagans how much they want to support them in their time of need.”
“It’s a very beautiful thing to watch,” she added “I may have had the idea, but Blount County is what’s shining. Our community is what’s shining.”
Tittsworth said after she saw the outpouring of support Clark’s grandmother shared a picture of him in front of a Christmas tree with a blue ribbon on his head.
“The thing that is most important to me is that the beauty in the aftermath of this tragedy is six times bigger than the evil that made it happen.”
MDA President Aaron Killian said he was thankful for the members of his association and their desire to reach out and help the community come together.
“Any time a tragedy strikes I’m amazed at our community pulling together,” he said. “I know people that were directly related. I think we’re all in shock and wanted to do something to express our support. But to see all these ribbons up and downtown is just important. We’re here. Blount County is here. We’re going to wrap our arms around this family.”
‘It Is Well’
Support for the family extended beyond Maryville’s streets with a celebration of Clark’s life held at Faith Promise Church. More than 800 people filled the main room Thursday evening, and the church live-streamed the event to other rooms and Facebook.
Clark’s artwork was displayed in the entrance, and a slideshow before the service shared images of the boy and his mother starting shortly after his birth, wrapped in a hospital blanket.
In the photos he peeked out from a pillow fort, wore a red clown nose, read “Harry Potter” with his mom, was ready to swim and play hockey, and formed a snow angel in the winter.
Pastor Zac Stephens noted that people were looking for hope and peace, and the hymn Miranda requested, “It Is Well, With My Soul,” was woven through the service.
“It has been the hardest week imaginable fore everyone here, for these families and for our community,” said Associate Pastor Jayson Hines. “But I’ve been amazed to see our whole community unite together this week.”
Speaking to Miranda, he said, “We are amazed at the way you have graciously led through the most difficult time that anyone could ever imagine. You’ve taught all of us. You’re an example of God’s love. You’re an example of God’s grace.”
The service celebrated Clark, who named among his dreams to become a “church dancer” and who drew his own comic books.
“He had a huge, wide, contagious smile, and a huge, contagious joy for life,” Hines said.
Even when times were dark, the pastor said, “Clark was always a light.”
He assured the worshipers that, “Dark has not won.”
Quoting John 1:1-5, he emphasized the last verse: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
During his 8 years on earth, Clark “loved God, loved other people and he was a light,” Hines said.
To honor him, the pastor said, follow that example. He recalled what Stephens told the church staff at the hospital on Monday after Clark’s death: “We are supposed to pick up the mantle of ministry that Clark had and carry that out the rest of our lives.”Hines encouraged the community to follow Clark’s example to love God, love people and be a light. He asked Miranda to look at the church filled with people as they raised their hands to commit to that mission.
“If we did this folks,” he said, “we would change this community, we would change this state and we would change this country, we would change the world.”
As Stephens ended the service with prayer, he referred to Clark’s legacy and said, “Blount County will never be the same; there will be eternal ripples.”
Amy Beth Miller also contributed to this article.