A balloon launch and candle-light vigil took place Saturday at the Pratt County Veteran's Memorial Lake in memory of the January 25 house fire victims from Pratt.
There were hugs and tears. There was laughter and smiles. There were memories shared by children and parents, friends and families, loners and groups. And there were lots and lots of spring green balloons released into the sky as the sun set over Pratt County Veteran's Memorial Lake on Saturday, February 3.
The balloons, released in memory of Charee Wheatley and her children Reece, Timmy, River and Harley who died as a result of a house fire in Pratt on January 25, numbered more that 540, and the community gathered in support of the victims' families filled the inner peninsula of the lake.
Craig Bates, grandfather of the fire victims, spoke just before the balloon launch, remembering loved ones and thanking the community for support. A few balloons squirted away before the 3-2-1 countdown but all eyes turned to the sky when the bulk of the balloons took off, borne upward by a brisk southeasterly wind that took them over the north edge of the lake, above the tree line and eventually out of sight high in the clouds.
Like the Pratt family lost in the fire, the balloons were out of sight, but not out of mind. Shared memories continued as candles were lit, providing beacons of light as darkness spread over the lake.
At a display table where framed pictures of Charee, Reece, Timmy, River and Harley were illuminated by candles, Karmen Bates talked with friends about the pictures of her cousins.
"I remember that day with Harley," she said. "She didn't want to wear that hat and she kept taking it off before we could get the picture. She was laughing the whole time."
For Amanda Cluchey, friend of the family, it was difficult to grasp the reality of loss and someone convey it to her daughter. Shelby Cluchey, 7, held her candle carefully while looking around at the others glowing in the dark.
"We told her they all went to be with God," Amanda Cluchey said. "That's how we talk about it. Her friends are with God now."
Music chosen by family members played from a car-radio, "In the arms of the Angels," and hugs and tears continued, as they will for some time.