The Rev. Dawn Edwards offered tender words to comfort those attending the memorial service last week for the three little girls killed in a house fire on Aug. 7, with assurances the little ones were not frightened as they died and that they didn’t live in vain.
“On that day, the children were not alone, but God sent angels to retrieve them. When this happened, Jesus stood up and he sent his angels forth,” said Edwards, promising they were ushered into the bright beauty of heaven.
Friends and family members crowded into Long Neck United Methodist Church, dabbed at tears, hugged and looked at dozens of photographs, arranged on memory boards and displayed on a large screen in front of the church as soft music played, showing 4-year-old twins Skylar Marie Marchuk and Veronica Ellen Marchuk, and their 18-month-old cousin Amaya Gentner, laughing, playing and sleeping.
“This is a day of sadness and a day of tragedy,” said the Rev. Bruce Rogers, pastor of the church where the memorial service was held on Thursday, Aug. 22.
“Yet, there is hope and there is reason to have a celebration. Even in short lives, there is reason for celebration. Christ will come again in glory and these children — Amaya and Skylar and Veronica — will be clothed in glory,” he said, adding that the Bible teaches it is not God’s will that “one of these little ones should be lost.”
“Lives we love have been torn from us,” he said, bowing his head and inviting the congregation to join him as he prayed, “Into your hands, we commend the lives of Skylar and Veronica and Amaya. Fulfill in these children your purpose.”
The Rev. Leretta Pettyjohn remembered Amaya in church, praising God.
“Everybody was looking down at her. I just knew it was Amaya. Amaya brought joy. My God, she lit up the room. I called her my boo-boo bear. She lit up the whole church. She lit up the house. She did. Whenever you saw her, she was always smiling. She was waving her little hands to say hi,” the pastor said.
“Our lives will not be the same. But look at us, the community, all of us coming together. We came together, and we are together for three beautiful little angels,” she said.
Against the back wall, first-responders in dress uniforms stood together, forming a straight line.
“Today is a hard day, but honor God today,” Pettyjohn urged.
“When that love is gone, when that faith is gone, we have that hope, and we have hope today. … God is greater than any challenge we may face,” she said, referring to a Bible verse that states, “When the soul is cast down, God is still with us.”
“This truly is a tragedy. It’s unfathomable. Nobody can understand,” Rogers told the Coastal Point.
“Those of us who are people of faith, we are simply called to believe God is with us and to believe that God will always be with us. We know that God will provide for them and for us,” he said.
The fire and deaths had such a strong impact on the community that hundreds attended the memorial service. Half an hour before it started, the church parking lot was full and cars were directed to Melson’s Funeral Services on Long Neck Road, next door.
Inside the church, guests squeezed together in pews or stood, until the crowd became so large that new arrivals were sent to the church hall.
Immediately after the fire, which caused $50,000 damage to the house, the community quickly embraced the family, donating money and clothing.
Close friend Albert Apicella, who set up a GoFundMe account, put the original goal at $5,000, and then, once that was reached, raised it to $10,000. That amount was surpassed in 20 hours. The target was then increased to $20,000 and had grown to $19,178 by early this week.
Donations will be used for the family’s personal needs. Another $15,000 was pledged by the Delaware-based Good Ole Boy Foundation, to help pay for the memorial service and interment, which as to be private.
Assistant State Fire Marshal Michael Chionchio this week said officials continue investigating to determine the cause of the fire, which began around 2:30 p.m. on Scarp Road in the Pot-Nets community near Millsboro. As the house was burning, one of the children inside, Kora Hitchens, was rescued and rushed the hospital, where she was treated and then released.
The bodies of the other children were discovered inside, in the back of the mobile home, after the flames were extinguished.
Several fire departments responded, including those from Millsboro, Indian River and Lewes. The bodies were transported to the Delaware Division of Forensic Science, where autopsies were performed.
By Susan Canfora