Several hundred mourners filed into Muhlenberg County High School Saturday to remember a mother and her eight children who died in a house fire.
Among them was Charlotte Groves, who had a firsthand account of the tragedy.
“I lived next door to them, I’m the one who called 911,” she said.
Charlotte Groves was awakened in the middle of the night on January 30 to screams coming from her neighbor’s home engulfed in flames. Chad Watson and his 11-year-old daughter Kylie escaped the burning home, but his wife Larae and his eight other children did not.
“He kept it together for his daughter. He kept saying 'God is a good God, they're in a better place.' He was remarkable,” said Groves. “He tried to go back in there three times but he told us the fire was so hot every time he tried, he got burnt.”
Inside Muhlenberg County High School, nine closed white caskets were lined up on the stage of a packed auditorium. Propped up on easels behind the caskets were large pictures of each family member: 36-year-old LaRae Watson, and her children, 15-year-old Madison; 14-year-old Kaitlyn; 13-year old Morgan; 9-year old Emily; 8-year-old Samuel; 6-year-old Raegan; and 4-year-old twins Mark and Nathaniel.
“In the 27 years I’ve been in the ministry, I’ve never had anything that has devastated me and touched me anymore than this,” said Tim Burden.
Pastor Burden of Calvary Baptist Church in Central City told the story of how Chad and Larae, also referred to as Nikki Watson, grew up in the church.
“Wednesday night, the night before the tragedy, Nikki came to the church,” explained Burden. “Nikki and my wife were the last two to leave, my wife was turning off the lights and she told Nikki to be careful and don’t fall. Nikki said ‘Oh, I’ve been up here before. This is where Chad and I used to come to kiss.’”
Stories were shared that brought moments of laughter, but the overwhelming emotion was sadness and anger.
“Today our family warns the loss of nine precious members, and it makes me so mad because I can think of 200 people the Lord ought to take,” stated Adam Brown, Chad Watson’s first cousin. “It makes me so angry, but I’m not mad at God.”
Despite his unwavering faith, Brown was still grappling with the question of ‘why?’
Larae Watson was remembered as a devoted wife and mother.
“She worked hard and she never stopped working. She was always trying to make things for the kids, anything she could scramble together. She would make clothes for them when they didn’t have enough money to buy them,” remember Brown. “Nikki Watson was all about the kids. She would have died for them, and she did.”
The Watson children were remembered for their red hair and smiles. They were smart with promising futures and their parents’ pride and joy. Next door neighbor Charlotte Groves shared some of her memories.
“Little Samuel used to come over to my yard and make faces at my 18-month-old son and make him laugh,” said Groves. “Those little angels did not deserve this.”
Memories of a loving family feel the hearts of many as a community tries to make sense of what happened.
“Everytime I walk out my front door, you expect the kids to be out there playing, but they’re not.”