- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

PHILIPPI, W.Va. (AP) — The funerals began early. There were just so many scheduled in West Virginia’s coal-mining towns yesterday.

And after an untold number watched on live television as it was revealed that 12 miners died in the Sago Mine explosion, the funerals were, for the most part, a private affair.

Only those who knew the miners and live in these coal-mining communities were allowed to join the families to grieve. Police officers created a protective ring around the two funeral homes here, asking the press not to intrude.

But it was clear, even from a distance, that nearly 100 mourners — hugging each other, offering condolences to each other, many staring at their feet as they walked inside — had gathered to remember miner Jack Weaver.

The 52-year-old section electrician, who spent 26 years working in the mines, always wrote “Jesus saves” in the coal dust of his mine car as he and colleagues descended into the mine, said his cousin, Scotty Felton, 42, of Philippi.

“He was a wonderful man with a wonderful sense of humor,” said Melanie Hayhurst, 44, of Fairmont, adding that she and her family had known Mr. Weaver for about 15 years.

Miss Hayhurst said Mr. Weaver’s family planned to bury him next to his son, who died as a child about 20 years ago in a motorcycle accident.

There were so many funerals that it made it difficult for some to remember where they all were.

“There are so many,” said Pete Sandridge, an employee of Wright Funeral Home in Philippi, “I can’t keep track.”

Asked whether he knew the miners personally, Mr. Sandridge’s eyes filled with tears. For an answer, all he could manage was to hold up four fingers and walk away.

First, Martin Toler, at 11 a.m. in Tesla. Then Mr. Weaver’s service here at 1 p.m. David Lewis, Jesse L. Jones and Alva Martin Bennett an hour later, here and in Buckhannon. Jerry Groves was the last, with his memorial service planned for sometime late in the day in Cleveland.

There are more to come. Three more today, then two on Tuesday. So many funerals that one remains unplanned.

Near the mine, which has been sealed off by federal and state regulators, more than 100 people gathered yesterday morning at the Sago Baptist Church, which became a gathering place for families during the vigil for the trapped miners.

Churchgoers sang hymns, and the Rev. Wease Day urged worshippers not to look for someone to blame.

Instead, Mr. Day said, worshippers should imagine that they had only 10 hours to live and write a note about how they would spend those final hours.

Anna McCloy, the wife of the lone surviving miner, Randal McCloy Jr., asked yesterday for attention to be focused on those who died.

“We are thinking of them today and throughout this difficult time and we ask you to please keep all the families in your thoughts and prayers,” she said.

Outside Mr. Weaver’s funeral, 72-year-old Sam Felton said that’s just what the families of those killed at Sago Mine need.

“Keep praying for us.”

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