MOUNT STERLING — Family, friends and community members held a candlelight vigil Thursday evening in front of the house where four children died Wednesday in a fire.
The children were all in heaven together, said Mary Rothwell, their aunt: "Tell them Merry Christmas and that we love them."
More than 80 people attended the vigil on the front lawn. They sang songs, prayed, told brief stories and sobbed. The lawn was lit by the headlights of a semi and candles that mourners held in the air. They stood around a makeshift memorial — a wreath, pictures, teddy bears and a partially smoked cigarette, for Shirley Dawn Rothwell, the 17-year-old who was watching her cousins. Behind the memorial stood the now-empty house with its charred smell, broken windows and melted vinyl.
Shirley Dawn was baby-sitting three cousins — Brandon Elam, 3, Wayne Elam, 5, and Timmy Elam, 7 — when a fire broke out Wednesday morning in the duplex where the children were. Neighbors and firefighters pulled the children out of the house, police said. They were pronounced dead at St. Joseph Hospital in Mount Sterling.
Montgomery County Coroner Wally Johnson said the children appeared to have died of smoke inhalation.
Mary Rothwell said family members think the children were asleep at the time of the fire.
The fire started in the living room, said Jim Carroll, a spokesman for the state fire marshal's office. The office and state police are investigating what happened. The fire is not thought to be suspicious, Carroll said.
At the service, friends and family remembered the boys as rambunctious.
"The kids could make you laugh and at the same time they could make you mad," Rothwell said.
Amber Ritchie, a cousin, said the boys were "the best little boys in the world."
"They could be the meanest little things and, at the same time, the sweetest," she said.
Rothwell said family members would make funeral arrangements for the four children Friday. They also planned to set up a memorial fund.