Harshbarger story being told on ‘Dateline NBC’

Published on April 21, 2011
Lee Harshbarger and his son, Dean, will appear on ‘Dateline NBC’ Friday at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. — Photo courtesy of Clark Van Orden/The Times Leader

Bear Creek Township, Pennsylvania —

It’s not likely that closure will ever come to Lee Harshbarger.

His son, Mark, was shot and killed while on a hunting trip in Buchans Junction, N.L., on Sept. 14, 2006.

Mary Beth, Mark’s wife, was the shooter, telling authorities she mistook her husband for a bear. She was later acquitted in Supreme Court in Grand Falls-Windsor of all charges in his death.

On Friday night at 9 p.m. Eastern Time (10:30 p.m. Newfoundland Time), “Dateline NBC” will air a one-hour show on the Harshbarger case — “As Darkness Fell.”

Lee Harshbarger was interviewed for the show, as were his other children.

Mary Beth, declined to participate.

A preview of the show is available on the “Dateline NBC” website. It begins by stating, “A married couple’s passion for hunting led to one tragic outing that would change their lives.”

Mary Beth’s voice is heard in the preview, taken from her testimony in court.

“I fired and I heard this God awful scream,” she states.

Lee said Mark and a guide went into the woods to scare out a bear.

“She was a very good shot,” Lee said. “She could shoot.”


Compelling story

Keith Morrison, the award-winning correspondent for “Dateline NBC,” said he found the story compelling.

“It forces people to make up their minds as to what they think,” Morrison said Wednesday.

“Dateline” is a two-hour show. The Harshbarger story will run the first hour, Morrison said, adding it will be fast-paced.

“We tried to tell as much of the background as we could,” he said. “We looked for ways to tell the story as efficiently as possible.”

Morrison said the story will begin with an extensive explanation of the relationship between Mark and Mary Beth. He said “some of her past issues” will be revealed.

“The Harshbarger family had considerable suspicions about her from the get-go,” Morrison said. “We tried to be as fair as possible to both sides to allow our viewers to make up their own minds.”

Morrison said Mary Beth went back and forth with the show’s producers regarding her participation. He said a crew went to her farm in Meshoppen to interview her, but she cancelled at the last minute.

“She told me she was afraid of the questions I would ask,” Morrison said. “I think Mary Beth feels that the whole world is out to get her.”

Lee Harshbarger said he will watch “Dateline” Friday night, but no matter what he sees or learns, he still won’t have closure in the death of his son, Mark.

“There isn’t much I really can do now,” Lee said. “I was sure she was going to be convicted. We have our opinions about what happened. People can view the show and form their own opinions.”

Lee Harshbarger, 77, who lives in Sweet Valley and shares a home in Bear Creek Township with his companion, Carol Bawiec, said all hunters should be certain of their target before they shoot.

In October, Justice Richard LeBlanc of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador said the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mary Beth was guilty of criminal negligence causing death in relation to the shooting of her late husband. LeBlanc blamed “numerous unfortunate facts” that led Harshbarger to believe she was shooting at a bear.

She now lives on her farm in Meshoppen with her two children.


Discontent remains

Lee Harshbarger said he is still disappointed in the court’s decision. He said he doesn’t know how or if he will ever have closure in the death of his youngest son.

“I don’t really know what it will take to get over this,” Lee said. “Seeing my grandchildren — Mark’s children — would sure help.”

Morrison said his heart went out to Lee.

“Mark was the apple of his eye,” he said. “The hunting trips they made together were wonderful times for both of them.”

Lee said Mary Beth had Mark’s remains cremated. He said he doesn’t know what happened to Mark’s ashes.

The last five years have been gruelling for Lee. He said he wants to heal, but the many uncertainties surrounding the case remain with him. The acquittal won’t be appealed, he said.

“Like I said, we have our opinions,” Lee said.



Reprinted with permission from The Times Leader


About the TV story

Title: “As Darkness Fell”

When: Friday night at 9 p.m. (ET)

Where: “Dateline NBC”

What: The story of the relationship between Mark and Mary Beth Harshbarger and the circumstances surrounding Mark’s death from a gunshot fired by Mary Beth.

From the show: “A family hunting trip in Newfoundland leaves a father dead. Keith Morrison tells the story of how one rainy, dreary and foggy night, a woman shot and killed something she said she thought was a bear — it wasn’t.”

Video preview: www.msnbc.com