A Texoma community is slowly helping a grieving family cope with a devastating loss.
46 year-old David Wayne Watkins and 40 year-old Angela Lynn Watkins died when their trailer went up in flames in Southern Clay County late Sunday night. They are survived by their three children.
The oldest of the Watkins children is in his 20s, and the youngest is a freshman girl at Bellevue High School. According to school officials, the girl lived at the home with her parents, but was spending the night with one of her brothers when the fire broke out. Clay County Sheriff Kenny Lemons says family members discovered the burnt remains Monday morning around 8 am.
"A tragedy like this affects the whole town," says the Principal of Bellevue ISD, Aaron Tefertiller."In a small community like this, the family relations just like the friendship relations are pretty far reaching."
After hearing word about a fire, Bellevue school officials went to where the family's home once stood to try to help console the surviving family members.
"They have my prayers and I am going to do all I can to assist the family," says Dean Gilstrap, the Bellevue Superintendent, "But you feel helpless."
The Principal echoes that sentiment. "Sometimes there is not anything that you can say. It's just being there and that's usually the main thing of the grieving process is just being with the families and letting them know that you are there and that you care about them," he said.
While the Clay County Sheriff's Office and Fire Investigators with the Wichita Falls Fire Department surveyed the damage, attempting to see what started the fire on Monday, the youngest child and her brother stopped by the school to pick up belongings. She also spoke to some friends, to let them know that she was ok.
"Bellevue's a small school. It's more like a family than an institution, so this is the right place for a child that needs special attention," says a Bellevue counselor, Johney Chandler. "Bellevue's always been a place that will give that and I believe that these kids will get that same kind of attention."
The Watkins family has dealt with tragedy in the past. The family had a fourth child, who had suffered with special needs. She was educated at Bellevue ISD and occasionally the Superintendent would give her a lift home, to where the family's trailer once stood. According to the Superintendent, that child passed away about 3 years ago.
Superintendent Gilstrap says the school knows how to deal with loss. 5 members of the community, from counselors to Ministers, were brought in to help students understand their emotions. "Try to get the kids in their normal routine as much as possible," he explained.
For anyone who needed it, a safe room was set up in the Principal's office, where soft music played and students could learn how to cope.
"A lot of them wrote letters to the student, a lot of them wrote down their emotions, they talked together, some of them prayed together," said Tefertiller. "It's amazing, in even a short amount of time, just being able to do that allowed them to process those things has been great for our students."
Counselor Chandler says the methods of the safe room are proven ."A lot of time, they need to talk. And so we'll allow them to go and talk and vent their feelings and their frustrations."
However, when it comes to the surviving family members, extra care will be made. "The world has dealt them ill will and a dirty hand and so they need to express that and have somebody who will listen and be empathic toward them," explains Chandler.
While the safe room for students is only expected to last through the week, anyone who needs it, will be able to get help from the school. Together, members in the community know that they will be able to help a family while slowly trying to rebuild a life.
"There are definitely going to be areas of need," says the Principal. "It's amazing how everybody wants to help."
Already, students, parents and teachers have donated food and clothing to the surviving family members. The Baptist church in Bellevue is also accepting donations and will hold a prayer vigil Wednesday night at 7pm.
It's the day to day support that the Superintendent says will keep the community strong. "Yesterday was a bad day for Bellevue ISD, today is a little better, and tomorrow will be a little better."