Former NBC Exec on Overcoming Overwhelming Tragedy
Share This article
“I would never be happy again. I would never trust again. I would never be a mother again. I would never feel real love again. I would not and could not heal. Ever.” These thoughts expressed Michelle Hord’s heartache beginning June 6, 2017. What had happened was unimaginable, and moving on seemed impossible.
Michelle graduated from Howard University in Washington, DC in in 1992, and began her career shortly afterward as an associate producer for the TV show, America’s Most Wanted. There she came into regular contact with murder scene details and photos, criminal background information, and distraught families. She later worked for several other high-profile TV programs and hosts.
In 2007, Michelle married Hank (not his real name), whom she had known for years as her brother’s resident assistant at college. “He was attractive beyond his looks,” she remembers. “Always the life of the party, he was a man with a great sense of humor and manners.” They shared a faith in God, many interests, and enjoyed a wonderful relationship, though Michelle did have concerns. "Hank always had anger issues, but it wasn’t until our relationship evolved into a romantic one that I saw the first glimpses of that. I worried about many things in our relationship. I worried about him finding a steady career path – something that was a pervasive struggle for the length of our marriage.”
In 2009, Michelle gave birth to their daughter, Gabrielle, who became the delight of their lives. Still, their marriage deteriorated over the years and eventually, Michelle moved out to ease the tension and pursued divorce. Hank grew increasingly unstable and fought her on it at every turn. Finally, in June of 2017, he agreed to sign the divorce papers. She remembers the day clearly. “He seemed exhausted and restless. He was unkempt and smelled of smoke. It was sad. He wasn’t the man I married. Not by any measure. That day, his eyes were vacant. He was empty.” Gabrielle stayed with her dad during the week, and her mom on weekends at her rental home. They agreed to talk with Gabrielle the next day about the changes that would become their new normal, hugged each other, and went their separate ways.
On Tuesday, June 6, Michelle went to work in New York City from their home in the suburbs. At lunchtime, she received a call from Gabrielle’s nanny that shook her to the core. “Her screams were piercing. 'There is blood everywhere.'” After hearing what the nanny saw, Michelle told her to get out of the house, hung up, and went into action. She called one of the moms from the school Gabrielle attended. The woman hadn’t seen Gabrielle in the drop-off line that morning. Then Michelle went into the break room, dropped to her knees and prayed. “Oh God, please. Please, God.” She asked for strength to face whatever she would walk into, and then a colleague drove her home, a 35-minute drive that seemed like the longest of her life. “As the car entered our neighborhood, the certainty of what I might find was cemented.”
Michelle had been in these scenes many times before with her work on America’s Most Wanted. She couldn’t believe it was now happening to her. “Flashing police lights. Vehicles parked as if they had arrived suddenly. A crowd on the corner.” Hank’s mother, whom Michelle had called, was also standing there. “She was nearly catatonic, murmuring in anguish, ‘I’ve given birth to a monster.’ The police tape, the sorrow-filled look from our pastor was familiar. My pastor pulled me out of the car and held me close. He whispered in my ear. ‘Yes, it is true. It is all true, and Hank is in an ambulance headed to the hospital.’”
Hank had killed their precious daughter by smothering her. Then he cut his own wrists to make it look like he was attempting suicide, or that an intruder had been there. He said both, yet also confessed to the police that he indeed had killed Gabrielle. Michelle almost buckled, but managed to remain standing. “’You mean that (expletive) didn’t have the decency to kill himself?’ I responded in shock.”
Michelle is quick- and grateful - to acknowledge that most people will never face the kind of nightmare that she has had to face. Still, she says, everyone deals with trials and disappointments of one kind or another in life. She speaks publically and wrote her book to help us all deal with life before and after such crises. When the fog of her nightmare cleared just enough to think rationally, she says she looked to Scripture for comfort, specifically, the book of Job. The verse that has been her touchstone since that most awful day in her life comes from chapter 13, verse 15: “’Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.’ It became my battle cry,” Michelle says.
Though she didn’t feel like she could trust God for a while, it was her goal. It took time. She says she didn’t ask “Why me?” because she believed the question really should be “Why anyone?” She also says that while she was deeply angry with Hank and the judicial system over the next two years, she wasn’t angry with God. “I do not resent God, although I do not understand Him,” she says. “I don’t pretend to know why this was allowed to happen. I believe that God and my beloved child are still with me in spirit.”
Michelle says there were a number of steps she took, with the guidance of a good trauma counselor, which helped her and will help anyone. One tool is to be grateful for what one still has. While her agony over Gabrielle’s murder was incalculable, she kept reminding herself that she had almost eight years with her precious daughter and a million wonderful memories. A “defiance” rose up in her not to let her daughter’s death overshadow her wonderful life. “Yet I’m alive. Yet I have my family. Yet I can pay my bills. Yet I know love. That’s where it begins,” Michelle advises.
Another important step in recovering from a painful trial, Michelle believes, is to choose hope. Referring to the well-known verse, 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love,” Michelle says, “The agape love of God certainly supersedes anything else. But for me, hope is the most enduring. Hope is the stabilizer. It literally keeps us breathing when everything around us is trying to steal our breath.” She knows how hard it can be to hope. “Hope may just feel like, 'I hope I can get in and out of the shower and to work today. I hope that I can sleep tonight, because I haven’t slept in a few nights.' If you give yourself no other gift, give yourself the gift of hope.”
COMING BACK TO LIFE
When asked if she’s been able to forgive her ex-husband for his heinous crime, Michelle responds this way: “He has never admitted guilt and is still fighting the charge. (Still) I did not allow hate to overtake me.” In October, 2019, Hank was convicted of second-degree murder, and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Michelle has reunited with his mother, and they go to church together.
As she continues to mourn the loss of her beloved daughter, Michelle has found great healing in serving other children through "Gabrielle’s Wings." That’s the non-profit she founded to provide underserved children around the globe with educational, recreational, and cultural engagement. At this point, the organization has donated $425,000 to such projects with partners on three continents. Thus far, 13,000 children have benefited from Gabrielle’s Wings.
Michelle slowly came to the place in her healing where she was able to love and trust a man again. She’s happy to say she met a wonderful one named Axel in the Bahamas in 2019, and later married him. “I met a man by the sea where I once walked with my baby. A man who knows God, his own heart, and his dreams. A man who wishes to protect me. A man who, despite never knowing my daughter, always craves to hear more stories from those who loved her, and keeps a picture of her on his nightstand.”
Share This article