The Toughest Assignment and the Power of Forgiveness

I often get asked what’s the hardest story I’ve ever had to photograph. In 2008, I traveled with New York Times correspondent Bill Yardley to Chewelah, Washington to interview Jeffrey Schrock, 39 at the time, and a devout Mennonite. Mr Schrock and his wife had lost all five of their children in a car accident when a truck driven by Clifford Helm crossed a median on U.S. 395 and drove into oncoming lanes, hitting the Shrock family's truck. Mr. Schrock later befriended Mr. Helm, who was never convicted for the accident, and forgave him for the deaths of his children.

Killed in the accident from the Schrock family were Carmen, 12; Jana, 10; Carrina, 8; Jerrill, 5; and Craig, 2.

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We interviewed Jeffrey Schrock in his home in Chewelah, but I struggled to photograph him. I was unable to take any photographs during the interview and we only sat for a minute or so for some quick portraits after, his wife hidden in a back room of the house. I only had one child at the time, a 3 year old, but still couldn't even fathom the family's experience. Photographing Mr. Schrock was difficult, but he was extraordinarily gracious.

This left me with a dilemma, though, since I did not have an image that I felt conveyed the magnitude of the tragedy and the power Mr. Schrock's forgiveness. When we left the house we drove to the Pine Grove Mennonite cemetery, where the children were buried. Fresh snow had fallen and when we pulled up you couldn't see any graves or markers. We walked through the small graveyard, being careful not to leave any tracks that would be seen in any images I took, until in the far back I came across the five, raised markers for the Schrock children. I only took a few images, wiped some snow off the first marker to confirm it was the Schrock children, and then drove back to Seattle. The image still haunts me today.

You can read the full article here.

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