Some thoughts on Zach Mitchell’s accident 20 years ago

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RAINSVILLE, Ala. - This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of a heartbreaking tragedy that some of you may remember. A young boy was burned after pouring gasoline on a pile of burning leaves. It’s a story that some of us will never forget, especially me.  I remember the night of 10-year-old Zach Mitchell's accident like it was yesterday.

After being burned over most of his body, we were all hoping and praying for the best but fearing the worst. Doctors were giving him a one in ten chance of living. We sent a crew to Cincinnati where he was being treated in the burn unit at Shriner's Hospital. He was facing a long road to recovery.

While he was fighting to get better each day, his classmates were sending him words of encouragement. And neighbors in the Tennessee Valley were raising money to help the Mitchell family. A local restaurant sold meals for five bucks and raised several thousand dollars.

When he was well enough to come home, WHNT News 19 flew Zach and his mom back on a private jet. I remember sitting in the seat in front of them. I turned around and Zach’s mother was crying. I asked her if she was okay. She said yes, she just never thought this day would come. She was glad to be getting her boy back home.

I’ll never forget him getting out of our news car in Rainsville and hugging his twin Zane. The people who turned out to welcome him back home, cheered and applauded his return. We’ve followed Zach’s journey for almost two decades now. From the steps he took down the hall heading back to school for the first time and returning to a classroom with his friends after coming home, to walking across the stage and getting his high school diploma with other members of his class. He said that night in 2005, “Not knowing you're going to be here eight years ago and now that you're here the whole town and your friends, it's awesome.”

Zach Mitchell is a fighter. And don’t let him hear you say you can’t do something. He is an inspiration to everyone who meets him, including his boss, Plainview school principal Tony Richards. “When you feel sorry for yourself just a little bit all you have to do is look at that guy and know that he’s got drive and motivation that you just hope a little bit of it rubs off,” Tony told us.

Nothing is easy for Zach, even simple things like getting dressed. “Everything is a challenge. Everything is hard for me,” he told me. “But so far I've conquered. And I will continue to conquer. I'm not a quitter.”

We’ll have more with Zach Sunday night at 10 p.m. on “The Story with Jerry Hayes.”