BARDSTOWN, Ky. – Nearly 1,500 people packed a high school gymnasium and a few hundred more huddled outside Saturday to mourn 10 members of an extended family who died in a house fire.
Seven caskets lined the floor of the gym at Bardstown High School because family members had arranged for some of the victims to be buried together, including a mother laid next to her two twin toddlers.
"We pray now Lord that you will strengthen this family," said The Rev. Michael Smith of Bardstown's First Baptist Church.
During the service, several family members left in tears while workers from local funeral homes passed out boxes of tissue.
Mourners shared their memories of the deceased and spoke of helping the family and the town recover from the state's deadliest structure fire since the Beverly Hills Supper Club blaze in northern Kentucky killed 165 people in 1977.
Killed in the fire were Crystal Maddox, 30, and her 1- and 3-year-old children. Sherry Lynn Maddox, 47, who rented the single-story brick home, and her longtime boyfriend, 52-year-old Johnny Lewis Litsey also died. The fire also killed Demita Jo "Ann" Maddox Wise, 26, her 2-year-old twins, and cousins Deasha Danielle McKinney, 10, and Nakiya Genae McKinney, 8.
Avery Lewis, a friend of Litsey, came to only one conclusion when trying to understand Tuesday's fire.
"No matter how God calls them home, he calls only the best," Lewis said.
The fire has deeply affected many in this close-knit community of 10,300 people, known for its historic homes and bourbon distilleries.
Neighbors are collecting donations to help pay for the cost of the funeral services. The school system offered the facility to help accommodate the size of funeral and the large number of mourners.
Bardstown Mayor Richard Heaton said the surviving family isn't alone in their grief, that the town is grieving with them.
"Today is not an end for everyone," Heaton said. "It's a new beginning for the adults and children who perished in this fire."
A lone survivor, Darrell Maddox, was hospitalized with burns and was in stable condition on Saturday, said Fire Chief Anthony Mattingly. Officials were still investigating the cause of the blaze.
Joe L. Willis, Litsey's friend, stood on the balcony overlooking the gym floor and wondered how the remaining family members would recover.
"It's awful, what they'll have to go through," he said. "I just don't know how they'll be able to do it."