A Hunting Accident and Forgiveness
By Mark Thomas/Altavista Journal Editor
Wednesday, January 26, 2011 12:09 PM EST
It's a powerful story Dan and Mark Witt have written and had published.
It's about a real-life tragedy on a cold, snow-on-the-ground Pennsylvania morning in December 1974. It was a horrific event for the Witt brothers, their mother, two sisters, other family members and a community halfway between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in southern Pennsylvania.
But it's also a story of triumph and everlasting joy. What happened that morning before noon more than 35 years ago has eternally changed countless lives.
Dan Witt, Altavista's assistant town manager, was 14 at the time. Mark was 12.
With their dad, Walter Witt, and grandfather, they were deer hunting on the last day of buck season. The brothers had gotten cold after hunting a while and decided to walk back to their grandfather's house.
Dan recalls hearing a shot, back where his dad was hunting. He figured his dad, who was a science teacher, track coach and lay speaker for Christ, had gotten a buck.
"I didn't realize it was the shot that killed dad," Dan, now 50, said recently.
He didn't know until, while walking back to his grandfather's house, a motorist on the road stopped and asked him if he'd heard about the hunting accident. Dan said no and asked who it was.
Walt Witt was the man's answer.
The man drove Dan to his grandfather's, where game wardens and policemen shook their heads no when Dan asked if his dad was OK.
Mark had arrived earlier at his grandfather's house and gone inside. He heard sirens and came outside. He said his older brother told him what had happened to their dad.
"That was the first thing that went bad in my life," Mark, now 48, said. " I tell people when I talk that if there was a time when I thought God had made his first mistake, that was it."
Walt Witt was 38 when he was shot by another deer hunter, who was about 20 years younger and thought he'd seen a "wall hanger." Dan said his dad was sitting against a stump, working on a sermon entitled "Heaven." He was scheduled to deliver it the next day. The bullet hit him above the right eye, killing him instantly.
The shooter was originally charged with involuntary manslaughter. That was reduced and he was convicted of shooting a person thinking it was an animal. He was fined $1,000 and lost his hunting license for 10 years.
Dan said he's never heard from the man who fired the fatal shot. Mark said he sent the man a tract with the story and told him he'd like to talk to him. He said he told him he had no hard feelings. Both Witt boys have forgiven him.
Dan said their mother met with the shooter just days after the accident, told him she forgave him, knew it was an accident and witnessed about her faith in Christ to him.
That's the tragic side of what happened that morning many years ago. Here's the part about the everlasting joy.
Dan, who lives near Lynchburg, and Mark, who lives in Huntsville, Ala., have published the story in a six-panel tract. They printed more than 3,000 late in 2009 and early last year. They've told the story in churches and at hunting dinners. Just recently, they spoke at a church in Pennsylvania not far from where the accident happened. They use the story of their dad to share the faith he had and they have in Jesus Christ. It's a ministry to save souls.
As they write in the tract, their dad isn't in heaven because he was a great husband and father, not because he was baptized and not because he went to church.
He's "in heaven for one reason and one reason alone - he had put his faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ."
Dan and Mark Witt have spoken in about 10 churches. They're going to speak in Canada in May. Next March, they'll present at the church their dad was supposed to speak at Dec. 15, 1974.
"Each time I do this, it scares me to death. I'm truly humbled God can use this terrible tragedy in our lives for good," Dan said.
People have found out about the story by word of mouth. The Witts don't have a Web site. They don't charge a fee to speak or for the tracts.
"We just look at it as an opening to share our faith. When God opens the door, we try to step through it."
Mark said the tract is easy to hand to someone, especially hunters, who'd be interested in the photo of the buck on the cover under the title of "Mistaken Identity."
"My dad points more people to Christ now that he's dead than he probably did while living. His witness and testimony go on 36 years after his death," Mark said.
Both Dan and Mark still hunt.
Dan, who has killed many deer and gobblers, said their dad started taking them into the woods when they were young boys. He said he instilled a love of hunting in them.
"Now for me, when I'm sitting in a tree out hunting, that's when I'm closest to God." He said he enjoys watching the sun rise and set and the beauty of nature.
Mark said their mother wanted them to quit hunting after the accident. Their response was what if dad had died in a car wreck? Would she want them to quit driving?
Continuing to hunt also keeps them close to the mission field. Hunting is a big part of the tract and their talks. So is the evangelism.
"As you step into the woods this hunting season, may we ask you the most important questions you will ever be asked? If you were to die today, where would you spend eternity? Are you prepared to meet your creator?"
To get a copy of the tract, e-mail Dan at email@example.com.