MOUNT STERLING — Songs and words of hope rang out among sobs Tuesday during the funeral for four children who died in a fire Dec. 24.
A couple hundred mourners attended the afternoon service at First Baptist Church.
Shirley Dawn Rothwell, 17, had been baby-sitting three cousins — Brandon Elam, 3, Wayne Elam, 5, and Timmy Elam, 7 — when fire broke out in a duplex. All four died of smoke inhalation.
Four white coffins were situated in a semicircle at the front of the church sanctuary.
Shirley Dawn Rothwell cradled a cell phone on her shoulder. "She loved her cell phone," her mother, Linda Yarber, said later.
Wrestling figures and a pillow bearing the image of wrestler John Cena accompanied Timmy Elam in his coffin. He and his paternal grandfather, Jerry Cartmill, had written 18 to 20 pages of a book illustrated with the boy's drawings of pirate ships.
Wayne Elam lay with a bag of Teddy Graham snacks. His nickname was "Beaner" because "he could eat his weight in green beans," recalled paternal grandmother Karla Cartmill after the service.
"He loved to help me cook," Karla Cartmill said. But Wayne could be antsy, and that prompted his grandmother to call him "Mr. Impatient."
"He would have made Montgomery County proud if he would have made it to high school, because for 5 years old, he missed very few shots," she said.
And Brandon had die-cast metal NASCAR cars in his coffin. As the youngest of the three brothers, he had followed his older siblings. "Whatever they did, he did," Karla Cartmill recalled.
"They'll be sorely missed," Jerry Cartmill added. "They were just a joy to be around, a joy to watch them play. And the simplest things they loved."
During the funeral, Mary Rothwell read a poem written by her niece Shirley Dawn shortly before the teen died. When she'd finished reading, Mary Rothwell blew a kiss to the ceiling and said, "Till I see you again."
Tim Conway, pastor of Lucky Stop Pentecostal Church of God of Jeffersonville, picked up on that theme in his remarks. "Until we meet again — that's what we're saying to these children today," Conway said.
The children were buried in Machpelah Cemetery, named for the burial place of the Old Testament patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
No cause has been determined for the fire, which is under investigation, said Jim Carroll, spokesman for the state fire marshal's office.
James Humphries, pastor of Queen Street Christian Fellowship in Mount Sterling, said after the funeral that he does not have a definitive answer as to why the four died.
"The Scripture says time and chance happen to all of us, and that would be my answer," Humphries said. "We don't know all the answers. As the old song says, 'We will understand it better by and by.'"