By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — Some tragedies cannot be comforted with mere words.
Several speakers faced this reality Saturday as they stood before six white coffins holding the bodies of the Crawford family.
The speakers found they needed more than their own words to provide comfort for the hundreds who packed New Bethel Baptist Church for the funeral of those killed in a Jan. 23 fire.
Mayor Jay Williams said he would rely on the word of God because “even the most well-intended and eloquent words” fail at a time such as this.
He read from Matthew Chapter 11 where Jesus says he will give rest to the weary and the burdened.
School officials also were invited to speak, but they, too, said their words were inadequate.
Rob Kearns, principal of P. Ross Berry Middle School, said he and the other principals decided it would be better to let the classmates of the Crawford children speak.
A video presentation was played on the big screens in the sanctuary, featuring photos of classmates of the eldest Crawford children. Each classmate listed a memory or thought about one of the girls.
“She was a good counter,” wrote Benjamin Reynolds, a classmate of Jeannine Crawford, 5.
“We had fun together,” wrote Anya Gibbs.
Charlie Johnson, a classmate of Ranaisha Crawford, 8, wrote that he liked her jokes.
“I will miss her,” wrote Margie Johnson.
Also killed in the fire were Carol Crawford, 46, her daughter, Jennifer Crawford, 23; and two more of Jennifer’s children, Alisha, 3, and Brandon, 2.
The Rev. Kenneth Simon, pastor of New Bethel, is skilled with words but even he reached beyond a script in an attempt to provide comfort to the family mourning the deaths.
At the start of the funeral, he led the singing of “Understand it Better By and By.” Toward the end, he led the singing of “I Won’t Complain.” Both songs contain the message that God can be found in the suffering of life.
For both songs, most of those in attendance were standing with arms raised or hands clapping.
“He dried all of my tears away,” the mourners sang. “Turns my midnights into day. So I’ll just say, ‘Thank you, Lord.’
The Rev. Mr. Simon added, “My heart is heavy, but I can say, ‘Thank you, Lord.”
Mr. Simon said in his eulogy that he was in Jerusalem when he heard about the fire. He then visited a Holocaust museum where the names of those killed are read 24 hours a day as a reminder that such a tragedy should never happen again.
He said the people of Youngstown should also find a way to take a stand.
“Somehow we as a people must resolve and vow that this kind of tragedy will not happen to another family,” he said. “The homicides and violence in our community have to stop.”
Michael A. Davis of Youngstown has been charged with aggravated murder and aggravated arson in the deaths. The Crawford’s Stewart Avenue home was set ablaze after an accelerant was poured on the front porch.
Mr. Simon asked all of the ministers in the church to stand, and many who had come from other churches did so. He encouraged all of the young people in attendance to go to a church and seek guidance for their lives.
And he also thanked the community at large for showing compassion with flowers, good wishes and donations of money.
“It’s overwhelming to see the outpouring of love that’s been poured out on this family,” he said. “This is what our community ought to be about.”