Tornado victims remembered at candlelight vigil

BEECH BOTTOM – Beech Bottom officials and residents gathered at the village’s fire department Friday to remember, with a candlelight vigil, the many devastated by the tornado in Oklahoma last week week.

Mayor George Lewis said the event was organized after officials learned staff with Sheehan Pipeline have ties to Moore, Okla., a community of about 41,000 people where at least 51 were killed, more than 140 were hospitalized and entire neighborhoods were destroyed.

The company has established a staging area at the former Wheeling Corrugating Plant in Beech Bottom while working to extend a 40-mile natural gas pipeline from Washington, Pa., through Brooke County to Ohio.

Lewis said he’s learned a Sheehan Pipeline staff member’s son lost his home in the tornado. He and others from the village have tried to make the workers feel welcome, and in light of the tragedy, they felt a need to show they care, he said.

Plans had called for the vigil to be held outside the Beech Bottom Municipal Building but they were soon expanded to include a meal served from the kitchen of the village’s fire department.

The food, which included a cake bearing the image of the Oklahoma state flag, was provided by the Brooke County Economic Development Authority through the efforts of Ruby Greathouse and the Weirton Wal-Mart, Vito’s 2, Station Grille and resident Debbie Murdock.

The meal was added because the pipeline workers were invited but were expected to be working late into the day, Lewis said.

They were unable to attend, however, because they have been working even longer hours to accommodate being off on Sunday and Monday for Memorial Day, said Pat Ford, who as executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle helped to bring the company to Beech Bottom.

But Ford said corporate and local officials in the company asked him to express their appreciation for the efforts and prayers offered by those in the village.

“They are so moved by the compassion this community has shown,” Ford said, adding officials and residents have been friendly to the workers since they arrived.

He said some have returned that good will by donating to the local food pantry and repairing the roofs of the homes of local residents in need.

Jerry Haddon, maintenance supervisor for the village, has seen the men at work.

He said despite having little time off, “They want to work every day off helping people. It’s amazing the amount of energy they expend.”

The Rev. Larry Wallbrown, pastor of Christian Life Apostolic Church, said a Sheehan Pipeline employee has been attending his church.

“He’s an exceptionally good fellow,” he said.

Wallbrown, who offered prayers during the vigil, said he and members of his church “want to foster a spirit of togetherness and love toward our fellow man. We’re thrilled to be a part of this.”

Members of the church’s choir performed hymns during the vigil, which also included remarks from state Sens. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg; and Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Wheeling; and Del. Phil Diserio, D-Brooke.

Yost and Fitzsimmons read letters from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Tomblin said he’s offered assistance to Oklahoma state officials and its National Guard. Manchin said the vigil is a reminder of West Virginians’ compassionate nature toward others in times of crisis.

Diserio was recruited to read the names of those killed by the tornado. Their ages ranged from 4 months to 63 years old, but many of them were children. Judy Lewis, the mayor’s wife, wept as she rang a bell after each name.

“When he named those babies – it just breaks my heart,” she said.

But Judy Lewis said she believes God will see the people of Moore through the tragedy.

George Lewis said it was sadly fitting that the bell, an antique, once was used in a one-room schoolhouse in Beech Bottom.

The vigil isn’t the only way Brooke County residents are reaching out to the tornado victims.

Wallbrown said there’s a Christian Life Apostolic Church in Moore, and his church is collecting clothing, non-perishable food and toiletries.

Lewis said he’s learned the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce is planning to adopt a family in the Moore area.

While Beech Bottom has a tie to Oklahoma, through the work of Sheehan Pipeline and Chesapeake Energy there, it wouldn’t be the first time the small community has held a vigil for the victims of a tragedy.

In December a similar program was held for the victims of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

(Scott can be contacted at