By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer
On a warm and windy Saturday afternoon, family and friends said goodbye to Nina Asher and her children.
They drove down KY 11, just over the Knox County line to the Woollum community in neighboring Clay County. There, they filled the Antioch Baptist Church to express their sorrow and sympathy, to find solace and comfort, and remember the family they tragically lost a week ago.
Nina Nicole Asher was 22, and was pregnant with her unborn child. She and her three children — 3-year-old William Michael Frank Gray Jr., 2-year-old Camden Leigh Gray, and 10-month-old Abigail Danielle Gray — perished when the house they lived in on Sam Parker Road in the Knox County community of Gray caught fire last Saturday morning, March 9.
Her fiancé, Jesse Disney, 27, and two little girls who were spending the night with the family in the house — 2-year-old sisters Briel and Paiten Cox of Gray — also died in the fire.
The church was packed when the funeral began at 2 p.m. Those who paid their respects saw several floral displays, along with two open caskets on each side of the pulpit. To their left was the casket bearing Nina and Abigail. To their right, the casket bearing Will and Camden. Pictures of the family graced all of the front and some of the back of the memorial note.
Inside the note, on the left, was a poem written by Helen Lowrie Marshall called, “After Glow.”
“I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one. I’d like to leave an after glow of smiles when life is done. … I’d like the tears of those who grieve, to dry before the sun of happy memories that I leave when life is done,” was how the poem began and ended.
The Rev. William “Man” Cobb was one of two ministers who officiated the funeral service. He told the audience it was hard to comprehend how a family of seven could be taken away in such a tragic way. He referred to the Bible, and how Job felt when he lost his family. And Cobb also expressed words to comfort to those mourning the family’s loss.
“I just don’t know what to say, to make this easier. … What I’ve tried to get a hold of this is, do not take anything for granted. These moments that God has given us, do not take for granted, especially you young people. Look around and do what God wants us to do,” Cobb pointed out.
After he spoke, a recording of two songs were played. One was “Daddy’s Hands,” a country song best known as being written and sung by Holly Dunn, a Texas native whose father was a minister. Another one was a gospel song, “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me.”
Several tears were shed during the musical presentation.
“I really can’t imagine the grief that’s in your heart today. I’ve never been in a funeral like this. When they called me the day of the fire, I went right over there. Talk about really feeling hopeless,” the Rev. David Swafford told the crowd, referring to the number of lives taken and the sorrow that filled the community after the tragedy.
He acknowledged the fire has affected not just southeastern Kentucky, but also the attention of the hearts of people across the nation.
“I was talking to a woman from Atlanta, Ga., and she told me they were praying for them (the family). She heard the news. Someone in California heard it, too, and that they were praying for them. … Everybody’s asked that question, ‘Why did they have to go?’”
Swafford said he also thought about Nina’s children, especially in the days after their loss.
He gave advice to those listening — to one group in particular, and to everyone in the chapel.
“Mothers, if you have a child, love that child. It’s a blessing from God. … To all of us, God’s got your attention right now. He wants your heart,” Swafford said.
He closed with a prayer for strength and courage to the family, to help them hold on during their time of grief and suffering.
A recording of the song made popular by Vince Gill was played — “Go Rest High on That Mountain.” While his voice wasn’t on the recording heard, Gill wrote the song, and his touching spiritual lyrics deeply moved many at the service.
When the song ended, so did the funeral. A piano interlude was played, and one by one, those who paid their respects lined up to say farewell.
First to Camden and Will.
And then to Nina and Abby.
About an hour later, family and friends of Nina and her children carried the two caskets to two hearses Knox Funeral Home of Barbourville provided. A casket was put in each one. The procession lined up, and before sprinkles of rain began to appear, the vehicles slowly went on their way to the burial site — the Asher Cemetery, also in Clay County.
“It’s been a tough moment,” Cobb said before the procession began.
Saturday’s funeral was the final one for those who died in the fire. Two funerals were held this past Thursday for three of the victims — the funeral for Jesse Disney began that morning with his burial after the service, while the funeral for sisters Paiten and Briel Cox was held that afternoon. Both funerals were held in Corbin. The Cox sisters’ burial took place this past Friday.
Funeral for fire victims Asher, her children held in Clay CO.
By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer
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