Once again I will reprise this story about two marvelous people. There is an update near the conclusion of the post.
They met on a blind date and took an instant liking to each other. Much
of their courtship consisted of hiking in the mountains of western
North Carolina. She was three years his senior, a fact that brought
many laughs in years to come. They were married in 1949.
He became a lawyer. A lover of animal, she became a veterinarian,
rather unusual for her time. Her continued quest for knowledge led her
to take courses in forestry, icythyology, and she loved and studied
all things living. She would later give up her veterninary practice to
take college-level science courses full time.
They lived in Montana and in New York, but their passion was for
western North Carolina where they always intended to retire. The
couple were true lovers of the outdoors. When their children grew up
they traveled extensively, hiking some of the most rugged mountains in
the world. They always stayed in hostels or inexpensive lodging
because, as he said, "You meet so many more interesting people that
When they were in their 50s he hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from
Maine to Georgia. She joined him for parts of the hike and they
celebrated with champagne at the end of the trail. Other hikers were
delighted with her ability to identify every tree, every bush, and
every flower along the trail.
In 1990 John and Irene Bryant moved to the North Carolina mountains they loved so much.
Both photographs from the Transylvania Times
She was an avid gardener and an award-winning quilter. Their passion
was hiking, especially the lesser known trails in Pisgah National
Forest. They were stewards of the land, purchasing land in their
community and donating it to be a nature preserve.
After 58 years of marriage they were deeply committed to one another.
The continued to hike together...she in her 80s and he almost 80. They
hiked at least once a week, often on the trails of nearby State and National forests.
Their last Christas card.
On October 21, 2007 they went for a hike in Pisgah
National Forest. Their son who lived out of State was concerned when
he didn't hear from them. He contacted neighbors who also were
concerned that they had not returned. The son called the local police.
The car was found near a trail head here in
Transylvania County. On November 9, 2007, Irene's body was found near the
trail, not buried but covered with leaves. Telephone records showed that she had made a "911" call from
her cell phone on October 21 but the signal was insufficient to relay
beyond the tower. Their bank card was used in nearby Tennessee.
Irene Bryant had died of blunt force trauma to the head. Her husband John was still missing.
In February 2008 the remains of John Bryant were
discovered near a forest service road in upstate Georgia. He had been
shot in the head.
Evidence linked the senseless killing of this
wonderful and devoted couple to Gary Michael Hilton, although he was not immediately charged. Following the deaths of Irene and John Bryant, Hilton pleaded
guilty to an equally senseless murder of 24-year-old Meredith Emerson in
Georgia. Under the terms of a plea bargain he was sentenced to life
in prison with the possibility of parole in 30 years. He was tried in
Florida for the murder of Cheryl Dunlap, a 46-year-old nurse. He was
convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Hilton is considered a serial killer, having murdered at least four people in three different states.
Hilton was extradited to Federal court in Asheville, NC and charged with murder, robbery, and kidnapping in the cases of John
and Irene Bryant. He initially pleaded not guilty but in March, 2012 he changed his plea to guilty. He was sentenced in Federal court to four additional life sentences for kidnapping and murder. Hilton, now 67 years old is on death row in Georgia.]
But this post is not about Gary Michael Hilton. It's
not even about justice. There is no justice here. There can be no
justice for such heinous actions. This post is about two of my
heroes...John and Irene Bryant.
They left behind a legacy of love. Love for each
other, their children, their fellow man, and the future. Love of
nature, love of the outdoors, and love of these wonderful North
Carolina mountains. They are together once again and after seven years
we still grieve for them. They left the world better than they found
it. Let's all take a lesson from John and Irene Bryant. Live your
life to the fullest and give back to nature and to humankind.