A little girl's memories stir questions about good and evil: Terror in a small town
Oct 03, 2011
....I first met Rebecca a year ago, after writing a story about a man who survived his family's massacre. She told me she had a similar tale to share.
It began with death threats over the phone, she said, then letters and drive-by shootings. The church and parsonage were bombed -- 10 times to be precise.
The terror stretched on for more than six years.
Neither local nor state nor federal lawmen were able to stop the assaults. It ended in the parsonage, three days before Easter in 1978, as the family sat down to dinner.
To write her book, Rebecca told me, she returned to Sellerstown, to the church and home where her life was blown apart. What Rebecca experienced could so easily have turned her bitter and broken. Yet she spoke not of hate and animosity but of love and forgiveness.
As we talked, I couldn't help but wonder what had become of others who lived through the ordeal: the parishioners who lost their pastor, the federal agent who eventually put Horry Watts behind bars.
And what about the trigger man whose actions on March 23, 1978, affected so many lives?
If it is true that a killing can crack a place wide open and spill out long-kept secrets, then what had become of the community at the epicenter -- Sellerstown?
Over the next several months, I drove more than 2,500 miles across the South -- from Sellerstown, North Carolina, to Mobile, Alabama, to the Appalachian foothills in Tennessee -- exploring how the actions of a few still echoed through the lives of many.
Listening to their versions of events, watching folks grapple with what happened while holding fast to their faith, I realized this wasn't just a murder story. For them, it was a struggle between the forces of good and evil.
In Sellerstown, I found everyone talking about the same thing: the little girl few had laid eyes on since she took the witness stand three decades ago.