By Errol Castens
VARDAMAN – Hundreds of people from around Calhoun County and surrounding areas filled the gymnasium at Vardaman High School on Monday afternoon to mourn three children killed in a residential fire Saturday.
Seven-year-old twins Yobani and Isabel Razo and their 9-year-old brother Oscar Razo died when flames engulfed their Front Street home. Their mother, Kimberly Brown, and older sisters Madison and Courtney escaped the fire, which might have been caused by a space heater.
“This is a really somber day for everyone,” said one Vardaman High School teacher who asked not to be identified. “We’ve had some counselors here to help the students.”
Vardaman Elementary School students wore three ribbons – green, pink and blue – in memory of their schoolmates.
“Those were their favorite colors each,” VES student Andrew Easley explained.
In a venue more accustomed to whistles and cheers, the line of mourners waiting to offer comfort often extended from the front of the gym, where family members stood near a single shared coffin, to the rear doors, near which stood uniformed Vardaman Fire Department members.
Instrumentals such as “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and “Jesus Loves Me” brought to mind both the ages of the children and the faith they each had professed this summer during Vacation Bible School.
One speaker encouraged Kimberly Brown and her surviving children, “We are overwhelmed by your strength and faith.” At his gentlest urging, the congregation gave the grieving mother and daughters a standing ovation.
Bro. Don Wilson noted the unified front of mourners from Vardaman, Calhoun City and Bruce – towns that usually see each other as rivals – and from widely varied backgrounds.
“Three communities are joined as one … white faces, black faces, brown Hispanic faces,” he said. “We all identify to one degree or another with Kim and the girls.”
Bro. Archie Goodwin recalled Oscar as “always wanting to make someone happy,” Isabel with a shy little grin and Yobani as a usually quiet but affectionate child.
“Life is a gift,” he said, “and a life that is honored is a life that is valued.”
Goodwin reminded the congregation of the biblical figure Job and his loss and recited Alfred, Lord Tennyson on grief and acceptance – “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
He also led the audience in reciting John 3:16, one of the New Testament’s best-known verses, to close the service.
Calhoun County Sheriff Greg Pollan said he hopes the loss of life will at least spur more safety awareness, but he also noted how heartening it was to see the outpouring of support Kim Brown and her family have felt.
“A tragedy of this magnitude affects everyone in this community,” Pollan said. “The town of Vardaman and the surrounding area are very tight-knit.”