Family members' conditions updated
BATH COUNTY — Florist Gail Hunt only knew of the Withrows of Vista Lane. But the mention of the family of six brought Hunt to tears Wednesday afternoon. "I've been like this all day," Hunt said after she went to the back room of the Bath County Florist in Owingsville to get a tissue.
Hunt, like many Bath County residents, mourned Wednesday for the two children who died in an early morning fire.
Kayla Withrow, 13, and Lucy Withrow, 12, were killed when their two-story home off Vista Lane in Olympia, about 50 miles east of Lexington, caught fire.
Four other family members managed to escape the blaze. The girls' father, Virgil Withrow, 56, was in serious condition Thursday at University of Kentucky Hospital. His wife, Maryetta, 57; and their daughter Danielle, 15, remained in critical condition. Their son, A.J., 11, was treated and discharged Wednesday.
Virgil and Maryetta Withrow had adopted the four kids last spring. Family and friends say the kids — described as funny and mischievous, but with great personalities — were extremely close and would often be seen playing together outside.
"We're just really grieving over this," Bath County Schools Superintendent Nancy Hutchinson said. "It's just a tragedy for our school and our community."
Firefighters with the Olympia, Owingsville and Salt Lick volunteer fire departments responded to the blaze at the Withrows' home about 6:15 a.m. Wednesday. The house — which is located off a quiet and narrow one-lane road sparsely populated by mobile homes — was already engulfed in flames when crews arrived.
The bodies of the girls were found near each other. It appeared that the girls fell into the basement from the first floor of the home, according to the Kentucky State Police.
A representative from the State Fire Marshal's Office will return to the house Thursday morning to investigate the fire, said Jim Carroll, a spokesman for the marshal's office. "The house was badly damaged, if not a total loss," Carroll said.
Investigators had not determined the cause of the fire Wednesday. But Kentucky State Police Trooper Joe Veeneman said there does not appear to be anything suspicious.
Counselors at school
The girls' deaths rattled the residents of Bath County, a small community of about 11,400.
Counselors and ministers met with students at Bath County's only middle school, which has more than 450 students. Some students and school personnel left early Wednesday because of the deaths of Kayla and Lucy, who were in eighth and seventh grade, respectively. A.J. Withrow is a sixth-grader at the school, and Danielle Withrow is a freshman at neighboring Bath County High School.
Stella Withrow, a relative of Virgil and Maryetta Withrow, said she picked up some children, including her sixth-grade son, from the middle school Wednesday because they were upset about the fire.
The Bath County bus driver who has picked up the four siblings for school each day was distraught and unable to finish the day, Hutchinson said.
"It's really just torn up a lot of people here," said Hutchinson, who described Kayla and Lucy as bright, witty and always smiling.
Hutchinson said Bath County Schools plan to hold a memorial service for the girls on Friday, but plans had not been finalized.
Friends, acquaintances and family members said Wednesday that Virgil and Maryetta Withrow were widely known for their willingness to take in and spend time with children.
"I can't tell you how many children looked up to them as parents," said Sherrie Willoughby, the owner of Tom's Pizza near Interstate 64 in Owingsville.
Willoughby, who lives near the Withrows, said Virgil Withrow has taken her son fishing. "I hope he gets through it OK because he loved children so much," she said. "It's just a horrible tragedy."
Virgil and Maryetta Withrow adopted their four children last spring. They had been the children's foster parents for about five years, a relative said Wednesday.
Garry Robinson of Bath County described the four siblings as funny and mischievous, with great personalities that everyone loved.
"They were pretty close," Robinson said of the siblings, who often rode bicycles and played outside their Olympia home. "They played together all the time."
Robinson, whose wife is Virgil Withrow's niece, said the couple had discussed buying a bigger house so they could care for more foster children.
"They never saw a kid they didn't want to take in and take care of," Robinson said, adding that both Virgil and Maryetta Withrow came from large families.
Hunt, who spoke about the Withrows as she helped customers in her flower shop pick out wreaths, said it is always horrible to hear about the deaths of children, but the proximity to the holiday season makes the tragedy even worse. "I do hope our community can come together and help this family," she said.