Many arrived in black T-shirts bearing the names of all 29.
For some, the attire of the day was accented by stripes of varying hues, resembling the safety patches worn by the underground coal miner.
All came to First Christian Church of Beckley with a heavy heart, burdened one year to the day by the nightmare of the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal.
For it was there that a balmy spring afternoon turned into a hellish nightmare, an explosion that came without warning, like a thief in the night, robbing families of their loved ones.
In all, 29 workmen on the Performance Coal Co. mine shift perished when the horrific blast rattled the huge mine.
Every pew was packed Tuesday for a poignant, tasteful service, orchestrated by Mick Bates, representing the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce.
Coinciding with other churches in the region, a ringer in the balcony tolled the bell 29 times, while white, pillar candles representing each victim were lit.
Many in the packed pews wept unabashedly as each bell was rung and a fresh candle awakened with its flame.
In his invocation, Pastor Don Snyder encouraged the grieving to turn toward Jesus with the promise to dwell in His kingdom forever.
Raleigh County Commission President John Aliff read Psalm 30, using the Scriptures to help ease the pain of losing family and friends in the worst mining accident in four decades.
“Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me: Lord, be thou by helper.
“Thou has turned for me mourning into dancing; thou has put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.”
Andrea Sullivan led the congregation in a time-honored worship song, “Amazing Grace,” then performed a Bill Withers tune, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” with slightly altered lyrics to fit the occasion.
“Ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone .. and this house just ain’t no home any time he goes away,” she intoned.
In a closing touch, Sullivan invited attendees to join her in another Withers favorite, “Lean On Me,” accompanied by John Sellards on the piano.
Withers is no stranger to the coal industry, having spent part of his childhood in Slab Fork, once a bustling mining community just beyond Sophia.
Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh read a portion of the Sermon on the Mount, with particular emphasis on Jesus’ words in the fourth verse, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
Michelle Morris, of Beckley, said the service was in good taste and respectful of the fallen miners.
She and other relatives attended to pay honor to her cousin, Christopher Bell, one of the victims.
“It’s grievous for the whole family,” she said.
“The whole family has gathered. It’s a time of togetherness. We’ve grown stronger and closer for the last year because of this. But today is going to be a rough day. Now, we have his memory. We’ll get through it.
“We’re doing all right now,” she said.
“We’re just talking about the good memories we have with him and of him. He has four children. We see a lot of him in them.”
Bell’s aunt, Susan McGinnis, also of Beckley, was impressed with the 35-minute service.
“It was very moving,” she said. “It was great.”
One of those paying respects was Donnie Snyder, who walked out of the Massey Energy subsidiary just five weeks before the fatal explosion, unwilling to continue working in what he considered unsafe working conditions.
“They had me run my buggy through 5 feet of water,” he explained. “To me, that was an unsafe condition.”
No longer associated with the mining industry, Snyder said he intends to open a barbershop at the Crossroads Mall.
On one side of the church stood an artist’s rendition of what a special plaque honoring the 29 will look like when it is placed on the courthouse lawn.
As the service closed, Father Joshua Stevens encouraged the bereaved to turn to the Lord to find “a refuge and strength.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Many arrived in black T-shirts bearing the names of all 29.
- Montcoal Mine Disaster
Independent investigation says Upper Big Branch disaster was preventable
A series of explosions that ripped through the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal just over a year ago, killing 29 miners and shocking the nation, were preventable, a report released Thursday stated.
Families not surprised Massey was irresponsible
For the father of one of the victims of the tragedy at Upper Big Branch, hearing investigators say the accident was preventable and largely due to ignoring important safety measures came as no surprise.
UBB report provides insight into future of mine safety
Following an independent investigation into the Upper Big Branch explosion, investigators offered more than 50 suggestions for improving the safety of coal miners underground, and lawmakers across the state and nation have taken notice.
MSHA investigation not complete, but mostly in line with independent panel's report
The public received a few answers to questions about the Upper Big Branch mine explosion Thursday from an independent team, but federal investigators are still completing their investigation.
11 panel findings and suggestions for safety improvements
As part of the independent investigation of the April 5, 2010, explosion at Upper Big Branch by the Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel, the authors of the report offered the following 11 findings that were accompanied by multiple suggestions for safety improvement.
W.Va. moves to unlicense Upper Big Branch foreman
West Virginia mine safety officials are moving to revoke the license of an Upper Big Branch mine foreman they say didn’t turn on his methane detector when he was supposed to be checking for the explosive gas.
The Charleston Gazette says a hearing for Jeremy Burghduff is set for May 15 before the state Coal Mine Safety Board of Appeals.
UPDATED: Report also criticizes regulators in UBB mine blast
The independent investigation that blames the deadliest U.S. coal mine explosion in decades on owner Massey Energy Co. also points out problems with how federal and state regulators policed the West Virginia coal mine where 29 died last year.
UPDATED: Families seek justice for fatal UBB mine blast
Relatives of the 29 men killed in the deadliest U.S. coal accident since 1970 said Thursday the findings of an independent probe confirm what they long suspected, saying Massey Energy Co. cared more about coal than workers’ safety, threatened to fire those who complained and let dangerous conditions build in an ill-fated mine.
Remembering the 29
A year after the tragic loss of 29 West Virginia coal miners at a Raleigh County mine, public officials gathered Tuesday evening with victims’ families, rescue workers and others affected by the tragedy.
Families haunted by tragic blast
“It was a hard week,” was the phrase repeated by family members of the 29 miners who lost their lives on April 5, 2010, during the Upper Big Branch Mine tragedy.
- More Montcoal Mine Disaster Headlines
- Independent investigation says Upper Big Branch disaster was preventable