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In the Wake of Tragedy, Light Shines Through

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“The guy says, 'What’s going on?' I said, 'My daughter’s missing.' He was with the volunteer fire department, he said, 'You say the word, we’ll start a search,'" said Dave Lemaire. 

He raised his family in the small town of Tazlina, Alaska. He loved the outdoor adventures he shared with his daughter Mandy.

Dave remembers, “Mandy was the combination of a pretty little girl and an outdoor tomboy. She was my fishing buddy, she was my hunting buddy."

August 22, 1991, 11-year-old Mandy Lemaire left her home to meet a friend at a meeting point halfway between their houses. Mandy never arrived.

“Her friend Erin had made it all the way to our house and didn’t see Mandy. I got on the 4-wheeler and went driving the route that she should have gone and she wasn’t there. I started realizing there’s something seriously wrong,” recalls Dave.

Dave contacted search and rescue crews, who immediately combed through the nearby Alaskan wilderness. Meanwhile he flew over the area in a friend’s plane, but there was no sign of Mandy.

“It’s pouring down rain now,” says Dave. “And now I’m thinking about the possibility that she’s out there, she’s hypothermic, and I’m praying, 'God, protect her. Help us find her in the morning.' My head is spinning, and I try to keep rational thoughts going.”

The search continued for 10 excruciating days. Then, while driving Dave was flagged down by a volunteer fire truck. “We stopped and I walked back and he says, 'We found her.' And I got excited and he says, 'But she’s dead.' And my heart sank. I just sat in shock for the 35-minute drive back to the house, thinking how could this be?”

Mandy's body was found in a secluded wooded area about a mile from her house. She had been sexually assaulted and shot. With no suspects, Dave was overwhelmed and angry.

“As time went along, I would go to town and I would say, 'Will I see my daughter’s killer in the grocery store, and will I know it?' So, this cloud kind of followed me. Somebody’s getting away with murder," Dave reflects. “And then I started doing a very wrong thing right here in my head. I started daydreaming about what I would do if it was my turn and my opportunity to punish this person. I came up with very, very awful things. And I drove myself almost to the verge of a nervous breakdown.”

Dave’s anger took a toll on his already shattered life as he waited for justice and longed for revenge.

“I was struggling on how to continue trusting God,” says Dave. “I’d go to church but really, I was there as a payoff to God, like, 'If I’m doing this, then no more bad things are going to happen.' And slowly I shut down, not that I completely would walk away from God but where I’d come to the point of asking myself, 'Can I really trust God at this point?'"

Three months after Mandy’s disappearance, Charles Smithhart a local resident, was arrested and charged with sexual assault and first-degree murder. A jury found him guilty and sentenced him to 114 years behind bars. Yet it was Dave who remained in an emotional prison.

He somberly states, “I had built a wall for myself. One angry thought, one bad thought after another. I built this wall of really ugly things and I felt like I had Him in a prison. And by now I came to the point that I’m having a hard time finding joy in life. And I knew that I had to come to forgiveness. Forgiveness meant that I let God be God and God be the judge. When I came to that point, I tore down that ugly wall and I found out the prisoner had been me. All this time I hadn’t hurt Him one little bit. But I almost ruined me.”

Choosing to forgive restored Dave’s love for God and renewed his joy in life.

“I’ve found now I can enjoy the simple things in life again of kids laughing and playing, of seeing God’s beauty and God’s handiwork. Also, if you think about the fact I’m going to have an eternity with her. So, the time that I’ve lost here on earth, although I’ve lost greatly, will be very, very minute to the time that I’m going to have with her in eternity. And I can just visualize the time when I get there. And I’m going to be greeted by the Jesus who loved me enough to hang on a cross and die for me. And behind him will be a beautiful blonde-haired saint that’ll be running towards me, bouncing up and down and singing, 'Daddy’s home. Daddy’s home. Daddy’s home.'”

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About The Author

Karl Sutton

Karl Sutton has worked in Christian media since 2009. He has filmed and edited over 200 TV episodes and three documentaries which have won numerous film festivals and Telly awards. He joined CBN in 2019 and resides outside Nashville with his wife and four kids. He loves cycling, playing music, and serving others.