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The Impact of a Servant's Faith -- the Roanoke Tragedy

News Anchor Steve Grant found his faith to be a difference maker when he was thrust into the midst of tragedy and overwhelming sorrow in Roanoke, Virginia.

The orchestrated killing of WDBJ7 TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward during a live broadcast on Aug. 26 sent shockwaves throughout the nation and around the world, but perhaps it was felt nowhere more than among their newsroom family.

The attack on Parker and Ward, who called Roanoke, Virginia, and WDBJ7 their home, immediately caught the attention of Marci Burdick, senior vice-president of Schurz Communications, which owns the station as well as 10 others.

Having been in the business for 27 years, including 12 as a news director, Burdick is no stranger to crisis. When she learned a little after 8 a.m. that morning the two had perished in the attack, she knew the WDBJ7 news team would need help to make it through. She also knew they needed not just any help, but the right help.

She requested Steve Grant.

From a professional standpoint, Grant was an ideal choice to step in to serve as a co-anchor for the devastated Roanoke team. With decades of experience as a news anchor for KY3 TV in Springfield, Missouri, Grant is also an award-winning journalist who, as Burdick says, is one of the most, if not the most, recognizable people in the Ozarks.

However, there are a lot of "professionals" and "award winners" in Schurz Communications, but Grant brought something else to the table: His faith.

Burdick, who was Grant's news director for more than a decade, says there's something calming and reassuring about Grant when he enters a room. And despite his many accolades as a broadcast journalist and regional recognition, he doesn't allow that to change who he is.

"The way he lives his beliefs, with his notoriety . . . ," Burdick says with obvious respect. "He'll role up his sleeves and do any job that is asked of him."

Within hours of the deaths of Parker and Ward, Grant, a graduate of Evangel University and a member of Central Assembly of God, was on a flight to Roanoke, arriving at 4:30 that afternoon.

Burdick also traveled to Roanoke to assist, choosing to take the night shift and observing the team members arriving in the early morning hours.

"I watched the staff come in the next day, hit the newsroom, and just sob," Burdick recalls. "Then they wiped their tears and began working on their scripts and making phone calls. When it was 4 a.m., the normal time for Alison and Adam to come in, they sobbed again." Burdick says, the team conducted themselves before the cameras exceedingly well, but during commercial breaks, tears continued to flow freely.

Grant was able to step in seamlessly as co-anchor that Thursday morning with WDBJ7 anchor Kimberly McBroom and meteorologist Leo Hirsbrunner.

"The shock, the anguish, the heart brokenness, the numbness was off the scale. Grim," Grant says. "When I arrived, it was as if the fatal shots could've been fired inside the newsroom. They were crushed."

Grant, who says he only slept about six hours during the two nights and days he was in Roanoke, believes he was there because of Christ.

"Maybe something I said, or didn't say . . . maybe the touch of my hand, my arm around Kimberly's shoulder made a difference," Grant says. "To me, it centers on 'being there' -- being present for others who have been crushed by something no one could have imagined. I don't have any power, but I hoped that in some way I could at least represent the power of God. When we are filled with the divine Spirit, we cannot be other than healers."

Grant has had past experience with newsroom tragedy. He was the morning anchor and first person on the scene for KY3 when a plane crash took the life of KY3 weekend anchor Dustin Moody. Grant was also working when the attack and attempted abduction/attempted murder of his co-anchor, Leanne Gregg, took place. Burdick says Grant's leadership helped the team make it through those tragedies.

According to Jeffrey Marks, president and general manager of WDBJ7, the presence of Grant was important for the solidarity it showed among the sister stations as well as for Grant's skills.

"Steve is no neophyte; he is a highly skilled veteran broadcast journalist," Marks says. "He's the kind of person that can keep a clear head in midst of tragedy, but also sympathize and empathize because he's a person of faith . . . [our team] looked to him for the kind of leadership that a senior journalist brings."

Marks says that the following day, they sent Grant to the scene of the crime to file a follow-up report -- something that they just could not send a WDBJ7 reporter to do.

"I've met Steve before and I knew what kind of a quality person he was," Marks says. "He was the right guy for my friend [KY3 TV General Manager] Brian McDonough to send."

Grant further impressed Burdick and Marks that first evening with his servant's heart. "Folks here enjoyed having him around," Marks says. "He did any job that he saw needing done, including trash patrol." When trash started piling up from all the food being delivered to the station, Grant "helped instantly" when it needed to be taken out.

"He did it uncomplainingly and with a smile on his face -- he was glad to help," Burdick observed. "That's the kind of guy Steve Grant is . . . what's the line? What you would do for the least of my brothers . . . ." [Matthew 25:40].

McBroom thanked Grant for being at her side and later shared with Burdick that at first she didn't think she needed anyone to co-anchor with her that Thursday morning. "But I did," she told Burdick. "He [Grant] was my rock."

Hirsbrunner would later email Grant, stating: "You have no idea how huge it was to have you here for us. Just knowing we had someone at the desk made us feel a little more safe -- all of your support is definitely helping."

"I have gone through two tragedies [Moody and Gregg] that hit KY3 very hard," Grant says. "On the flight to Roanoke, I kept thinking of Henri Nouwen's brilliant insight of how we are wounded healers -- 'We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen with our whole beings . . . and enter into a deep solidarity (with others).' Me? A wounded healer? Yes, I pray I was for WDBJ7." 


Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.