On June 6, 2017, media veteran Michelle Hord started her day like any other, driving to Manhattan to facilitate a workshop in Tribeca. Eager to see her 7-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, that afternoon after school, she anticipated about how she would tell her second-grader that she and her father were finalizing their divorce. But that conversation would never come.
After receiving a hysterical call from her daughter’s nanny, she rushed to their Westchester county home and faced an unimaginable tragedy. Gabrielle was found murdered in her home at the hands of her father.
The next few months would be a testament to the strength of Hord’s faith. She somehow endured a two-year murder trial, which ended in a guilty verdict for her ex-husband, who is currently service a life sentence in prison.
In her new memoir released in March, “The Other Side of Yet: Finding Light in the Midst of Darkness.” Hord chronicles her path from utter despair to building resilience, reconciliation and allowing herself to let joy back into her life.
She recently spoke to Know Your Value contributor and MSNBC host Yasmin Vossoughian, about coming back from tragedy, honoring her daughter’s legacy and offering guidance for others who are suffering unimaginable loss.
‘Gabrielle gets my son off the buddy bench’
Hord described Gabrielle as a curious, loving girl whose feet never touched the ground.
“It's like she was skipping and walking on bubbles when she walked, very effervescent,” Hord told Vossoughian. “Very early on she had a great sense of humor, loved the arts, loved learning and always had that natural curiosity … as someone that grew up in journalism I loved to see in her.”
But after she passed, Hord realized it was Gabrielle’s immense heart and sense of inclusion that made an indelible mark on others. “After I lost her, I was getting notes from parents and classmates that said things like, ‘Gabrielle gets my son off the buddy bench,’ and ‘Gabrielle would always make sure my daughter didn't have to sit alone in the cafeteria’,” she recalled. “So, to know that at the tender age of seven she was taking in some of the messages that I had hoped and was already doing those sorts of things just makes me incredibly proud.”
An ‘out of body experience’
When Vossoughian asked Hord about the moment she realized her daughter passed away at the hands of her ex-husband, the man Hord once loved, she hesitated for a moment.
“I think, to call it an out of body experience is probably the best way to describe it,” she said. “Having grown up in the business, I talk in the book about the fact that I started at ‘America's Most Wanted.’”
Hord’s first journalism job was producing missing children’s stories for the program, including reporting at crime scenes and consoling distraught families.
“It was the incredulousness of it, frankly, given the fact that there was nothing to indicate in terms of threats or violence in the home, that this could have been in the realm of possibility,” she said. “The sheer shock was just shattering.”
Hord recalled her initial reaction to her nanny’s frantic phone call. “I remember going and finding a little quiet space in this conference center and just getting on my knees and saying ‘God, I don't know what I’m walking into, but please just give me the strength to do to endure it.”
In the two years that followed, it would be that calling to faith – and her previous experience with loss – that carried her through the trial process and gave her the strength to deliver a searing victim impact statement in front of her ex-husband and the courtroom.
“My grandfather was a Baptist minister, I’ve grown up in the Baptist church,” she told Vossoughian. “To me faith is like an insurance policy – when you need to cash it in you realize how strong it is. My mom died when I was in my early 20s, so those early encounters with grief … let me know that my faith could sustain me.”
After the sentencing in 2019, Hord began the complicated process of also reconciling with her former mother-in-law, Gabrielle’s paternal grandmother, Barbara White. “[For her] the Earth and moon revolved around my child … I would come home and sometimes grandma would have purple hair and I was like – phew – better her than me!”
Hord always knew their bond was special, but the tragedy and trial “ripped us to shreds.” For legal reasons, they could not have any real contact during the those first two years. The sentencing was the first time Hord saw her former mother-in-law since 2017.
“When I was giving the victim impact statement, [I knew] that she was there for Gabrielle,” she recounted. “From that point on, I proactively sought to try to rebuild our relationship, even though the thing that held us together no longer existed in the form it had previously.”
For Hord, that reconciliation played a part in her journey toward healing – moving from her past to embrace the possibilities of the future. “The way we transition from our yet to our after is simple but not easy,” she wrote in her book. “If you are willing to face your before, accept your yet, and learn to let go so you can open yourself up to love, joy, and peace again, you can surely walk through the fire, and the flames will not set you ablaze.
Gabrielle’s legacy: Lifting other children to opportunity
Hord’s path to recovery also meant cherishing her daughter’s legacy in a way that focused on Gabrielle’s endearing kindness and love, instead of the way she passed. In 2018, she started Gabrielle’s Wings, a nonprofit that provides elementary-aged children of color in vulnerable communities access to educational, cultural and enrichment opportunities.
“As a mom of color … I've tried to do whatever I could do to bridge the gaps that [Gabrielle] perhaps would have experienced from an educational and cultural standpoint,” Hord told Vossoughian. “And that can be anything from outdoor classroom spaces with STEM learning places, to a partnership with the YMCA where we are offering free swim lessons to black and brown children in the greater Seattle area.”
Now in its fifth year, the organization has contributed more than $425,000 on three continents to various programs and activities.
Challenge yourself to find gratitude, even joy
While the daily grief and pain never completely go away, Hord has found solace not only in her faith, but in how she’s been able to give back and, which is the message she hopes to impart to others suffering immense loss.
“If you believe in something bigger than yourself – whether that's Mother Nature or inspiration from the universe – that’s one of the survival ways that that helped me get through,” she told Vossoughian. “Getting outside of yourself and your own pain gives you perspective and gratitude.”
For Hord – who admits she still has bad days – finding that gratitude takes practice. “I have challenged myself every single day, from going to the coroner's office to giving [Gabrielle’s] eulogy, to find something to be grateful for,” she said. “The book is called the other side of yet and for anyone who has gone through anything where their life now looks different, I challenge you to pivot to that yet where you can find possibility and hope.”