Mourners grieve for W.Va. miners
Published: Monday, January 9, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 10:00 p.m.
PHILIPPI, W.Va. - The funerals began early. There were just so many in West Virginia coal mining towns this Sunday.
And after the agonizing heartbreak that played out on television as families learned that 12 miners they thought were alive in the Sago Mine had actually died, the funerals were, for the most part, a private affair.
The miners' relatives and their tight-knit communities filled the services, while police created a protective ring around funeral homes, asking the media not to intrude.
Even from a distance, the pain was clear as nearly 100 mourners hugged one another, many staring at their feet as they walked inside to remember Jackie Weaver, a 52-year-old electrician who had spent 26 years working in the mines.
Weaver always wrote "Jesus saves" in the coal dust of his mine car as he and colleagues descended into the mine, said his cousin, Scotty Felton, 42, of Philippi.
"He was a wonderful man with a wonderful sense of humor," said Melanie Hayhurst, 44, a friend from Fairmont who said she and her family had known Weaver for about 15 years.
Weaver's family planned to bury him next to his son, who died as a child about 20 years ago in a motorcycle accident, Hayhurst said.
There were so many funerals it was occasionally difficult for the funeral home employees to remember the times and locations without checking.
Wright Funeral Home worker Pete Sandridge's eyes filled with tears when he was asked if he knew any of the miners personal. All he could manage was to hold up four fingers, then walked away.
First was Martin Toler Jr., whose funeral was held Sunday morning in Tesla.
Next was Weaver's service in Philippi at 1 p.m. Services for David Lewis, Jesse Jones and Alva Bennett were an hour later, in Philippi and Buckhannon. Jerry Groves' memorial service was later in Cleveland.
"I know I'll see him again," said Groves' wife of nearly 29 years, Debbie, speaking during the memorial service. "Eternity is forever. Our time here is just a vapor."
More funerals are planned this week - three today, two on Tuesday. Another had yet to be scheduled.
The lone survivor of the mine remain hospitalized and had yet to wake up Sunday afternoon after several days of heavy sedation.
Near the mine, which has been sealed off by federal and state regulators, more than 100 people gathered Sunday morning at the Sago Baptist Church, the building where the kept vigil for more than 40 hours after the explosion last Monday.
Churchgoers sang hymns, including "The Sweet Bye and Bye" and "Farther Along," which speak of accepting God's unfathomable plan, and the Rev. Wease Day urged worshippers not to look for someone to blame.
Instead, Day said, worshippers should imagine they had only 10 hours to live, and write a note about how they would spend those final hours.
The miner, 26-year-old Randal McCloy Jr., was hospitalized in Morgantown, after being transferred late Saturday from Pittsburgh, where he had undergone special treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning.
He had been in a medically induced coma to allow his brain time to heal, and while hospital officials said Sunday his sedation had been stopped, they said it would take awhile for the medication to clear his system.
"It has been very difficult to allow him to awaken, although that is our hope today," said Dr. Larry Roberts, the head of McCloy's treatment team at West Virginia University's Ruby Memorial Hospital.
Roberts said McCloy had shown signs of improvement since Saturday but remained in critical condition. McCloy's wife, Anna, spoke with reporters at the hospital, asked attention focus on those whose lives were to be remembered.
"We are thinking of them today and throughout this difficult time and we ask you to please keep all the families in your thoughts and prayers," she said.
Outside Weaver's funeral, 72-year-old Sam Felton said that's just what families of those killed at Sago mine need. "Keep praying for us," he said.
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