Movie based onTri-State Crematory tragedy


A movie based on the Tri-State Crematory tragedy that occurred in Walker County a decade ago is set to open at a Chattanooga theater on Friday.

The film is titled Sahkanaga which means great blue hills of God in the Cherokee language. It is set in Chickamauga, the hometown of director, producer and writer John Henry Summerour.

Summerour said he was troubled after the Tri-State scandal and believes the movie may help the community heal.

In 2002, more than 300 bodies that were supposed to be cremated were found piled up and strewn on the Tri-State property. Crematory operator Tommy Ray Brent Marsh is now serving a 12-year prison sentence.

"We can't correct the past," said Summerour. "We can't go back and make the crematory not happen. It happened. But what can we do moving forward as a community to ensure that it doesn't happen again?"

The movie has sparked debate in Walker County.

"As far as the issue is concerned, it's a pretty touchy subject around here for most locals," said Jesse Potts who was having lunch at a cafe in Lafayette. "I'll probably go see it (the movie)."

Others said the Tri-State tragedy has left a black cloud over the county even though 10 years have passed.

"I think they should just let it rest," said resident Vickie Holbrook. "Bury it."

Summerour used only local actors in the movie, including some whose loved ones' bodies were dumped on Marsh's property in Noble.

"There is an openness at the end," Summerour said of the movie's ending. "You get the sense that this boy and this community are forever changed but they're not broken. They're going to keep moving forward."

He said he believes his hometown will do the same and face a positive future.

"I do think it's Walker County," said Summerour. "Walker County is an incredibly strong place."

The movie opens Friday at the Carmike Majestic theater in Chattanooga.

Copyright 2012 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


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