Memorial service held to remember seven killed in Missouri mobile home fire

Monday, January 28th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ANDERSON, Mo. (AP) _ Dozens gathered at a memorial service for seven people killed in a mobile home fire, including two victims described as heroes who died while trying to save the other five.

The fire spread quickly through the McDonald County mobile home where 13 people were sleeping Thursday morning. Two adults and four children escaped through the front door, but seven people at the other end of the home were unable to get out.

``We are all grieving,'' Don Garner, a relative of six of the victims, said at brief service Sunday at a funeral home. ``We've suffered a great loss, but we must be thankful for the children who survived.''

Witnesses have said James ``Sonny'' Garner, 60, originally escaped the fire after leading six family members into the yard, but re-entered the fiery trailer in Bethpage to save the others.

His daughter-in-law, Ruby Garner, 31, stayed to battle flames with a rug, witnesses said. Together, they beat a path through the flames and reached the others in a bedroom where all seven died of smoke inhalation.

``Sonny got out of that trailer and was safe,'' said Don Garner, James' brother, during the service. ``That would have been enough for most of us. Most of us would have just said, 'Thank God.' But Sonny knew those babies and his wife and friend were still in that trailer, and he went back for them.''

Ruby's husband, Robert Garner, who survived the blaze, remembered his wife's courageous attempt to save their three children. ``She loved them so much,'' he said. ``She would never leave them _ never.''

The other victims were James Garner's wife, Mary Garner, 61; family friend Shirley Lucy, 58; and the three children, James Christopher, 9, Krisinda, 5, and April, 3.

Burial of all seven victims is delayed while DNA tests are completed to ensure the identification of the three badly burned women.

Investigators believe the fire started with an electrical stove used to heat the trailer.

Those gathering Sunday to mourn included a dozen educators and a handful of children from Rocky Comfort School, where James Christopher Garner was a second-grader.

Students brought teddy bears and flowers to two of those who escaped the fire, Cheryl Whitten, 8, and Mary Whitten, 6. They are also students at Rocky Comfort.

Others who escaped, in addition to Robert Garner, were Samantha Whitten, 5, Kimberly Whitten, 2, and Patricia Garner, 56, former wife of James Garner.