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Barbour lost four of its own at mine disaster

PHILIPPI — Sgt. Philip Ferguson knelt in the sleet that rained down on this grieving town Thursday and set into the earth a white wooden cross, a cross he had built that morning with his bare hands.

And then another. Another. Another. Four crosses, one for each Barbour County resident who lost his life in the Sago Mine.

“The sheriff’s deputies, we had a meeting last night,” Ferguson said, “and we just felt like we should do something for them.”

They were Marshall Winans, Jackie Weaver, David Lewis and Jim Bennett, four of the 12 miners who died after the Monday morning explosion at the mine. The handmade crosses on the lawn of the courthouse were just one example of the many ways this coal community is trying to show support for all of the miners, their co-workers, friends and families.

County workers made more crosses and placed them at a Belington bank. Another small local bank was draped with black ribbons, because four employees lost family members in the disaster, said Philippi Mayor Doris Mundy.

For Thursday night, deputies had planned a simple candlelight service at the crosses. A larger candlelight service is planned for 7 p.m. Monday outside the courthouse, with an ecumenical service planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Philippi.

Organizers want people to have options that will fit their needs and schedules, said Bob Wilkins, treasurer of the area ministerial association. Having more than one memorial service may be a good idea for another reason: Even in this small community, 300 people showed up for a memorial service held after Sept. 11.

“Sometimes people just need to be with somebody else,” he said.

“It’s not only for the families, but the community needs to come together and be healed as well. There’s so much grief and confusion right now, and maybe a little bitterness.”

In the Philippi area, it seems like just about everybody is a coal miner, was a coal miner, knows a coal miner or has family members that go underground.

Many lost neighbors, friends and coworkers in the disaster. Their sympathies, and sorrows, run deep.

“I went to church with Jack [Weaver],” said Chief Deputy John Hawkins. “Terry Helms used to work here in the Philippi mines. It’s all owned by the same company — ICG.”

Hawkins went to the front lawn of the courthouse, alone, and placed a miner’s helmet on top of each cross. One of them had belonged to his father.

To contact staff writer Tara Tuckwiller, use e-mail or call 348-5189.


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