TAYLORVILLE, Ill. (AP) _ For eight years, Brenda May wondered why a rare form of cancer was stalking the children in her small community.

One after another, four children _ including her daughter _ had become sickened, all within a three-mile range.

On Friday, she got her answer.

A jury ordered Central Illinois Public Service Co. to pay more than $3 million to the four families with children stricken with neuroblastoma, a cancer of the adrenal glands or the sympathetic nervous system.

``I wanted answers, and now I have them. Twelve jurors, God bless them, saw the truth,'' said May, whose 8-year-old daughter Erika May is now in remission.

The Mays and the other families said their children had contracted cancer after a 1987 cleanup stirred up coal tar dust and fumes from the Springfield-based utility's long-abandoned plant. The families all lived within three miles of the site.

Family members who packed the courtroom during the four months of the trial sobbed and hugged as the verdict was read.

Two co-defendants, Hanson Engineers Inc. and Parsons Engineering Science Inc., were cleared.

CIPS, now known as AmerenCIPS, plans to appeal.

``We continue to believe that there is no causation and no negligence shown during the case,'' AmerenCIPS spokesman Ed McDowall said. ``It's very inconsistent that the co-defendants were not found liable while we were.''

Throughout the case, the company argued there was no direct evidence that the children were exposed to significant levels of emissions or that coal tar causes neuroblastoma.

Neuroblastoma normally occurs about once in every 100,000 births.

Zachary Donaldson, now 9 years old, as well as Chad Hryhorysak and Erika May, both 8, were diagnosed with neuroblastoma between March 1989 and March 1990. Zachary is in remission and Chad is paralyzed below the waist.

A fourth child, Brandon Steele, was diagnosed with the disease in August 1991 and later died at age 15.

Steve Steele, Brandon's father, said he was overwhelmed with emotion.

``No matter what the decision would have been ... still we'll never bring Brandon back,'' he said, pausing between sobs.