1,700 Mourn Deaths of Four School Children
SNOW HILL, N.C. (AP) _ Almost 1,700 people crowded into a hot gymnasium for the funerals of four children who died in a school bus accident, but ministers were forced to cancel the eulogy when some mourners were overcome by emotion.
The four were among six students who died Friday when the bus they were riding in was hit by a tractor-trailer. More than 20 other students were injured; the truck driver also died.
Several electric fans were placed at the front of the gymnasium at the Green County Education Center on Tuesday in an attempt to keep the crowd cool as the temperature outside reached 90 degrees. Other mourners listened to the services on loudspeakers placed outside or waited on the porches of their homes across the street as two black hearses and two white-and-gold hearses were parked in front of the auditorium.
Coffins bearing the bodies of the four children were placed at the front of the auditorium.
Friends of Robert Warren, 13, one of the victims, attended the funeral dressed in their Little League baseball uniforms. They carried flowers that were draped over his coffin at the end of the 90-minute ceremony.
Warren’s mother placed roses on the coffins of her son and the three other victims: Shawanna Albritton, 13; Ricky Corbitt, 11; Mittie Mumford, 10.
″I think they all four enjoyed life,″ Raymond E. Smith, principal of West Greene Elementary School, where the children were students, said in remarks before the scheduled eulogy. ″All four loved their families, a love that has helped give their families strength and courage during this time.″
Four people broke down with emotion and had to be led out of the auditorium when a soloist started to sing. Nearly a dozen other people either were carried or led out of the auditorium by ushers and rescue personnel, forcing ministers in charge of the services to cancel the eulogy.
Two of the people led out of the auditorium were taken to a hospital for treatment.
″By faith, we can walk on each day,″ Bishop J.E. Reddick said. ″God expects you to keep walking by faith.″
Smith described Robert Warren as a student who excelled in sports. ″He had a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face.″
Shawanna Albritton was ″a perfectionist in her appearance and her school work,″ said Smith, who added that Ricky Corbitt ″always smiled.″
Mittie Michele Mumford ″loved to please people. She was liked by all the children,″ Smith said.
Gov. Jim Martin and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Craig Phillips joined other state, county and local officials in mourning. Martin said although he did not know the children, he sympathized with the parents of the victims because of his own family.
″I have a 13-year-old son of my own,″ he said. ″So, perhaps, I did come to know them through his young life and his excitement about his school and his friends and his activities.″
Martin said the state ″shares its sense of loss with you and would express to you our most profound sorrow.″
The children were buried in two cemeteries on the outskirts of town.