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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Emotions unite Community area after tragic fire

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tim Miller
When Tim Miller was awakened by the sirens of the trucks racing by his house Sunday evening, his first thought was for his students.

"I know you're not supposed to follow [emergency personnel] but I went up there to try to see," the Community Elementary principal said. "I wanted to get as close as I could to find out if it was a house fire, a barn fire or what."

In the rural area of northwestern Bedford County, the Community Schools which students attend are known for being close-knit and family-oriented.

Sad message

Miller received official word around 4:30 a.m. The Kingdom Road home that had been engulfed in flames was the residence of Leon and Molly McClaran, which they shared with their grandchildren Chloe Pope, a fourth grader, and Gage Daniel, who attended second grade.

Whitney Neeley
At the time Miller and assistant principal Whitney Neeley were interviewed Monday morning, only one body had been recovered, with a second one being recovered shortly before noon. Those are suspected to be the bodies of the elderly grandparents.

"We're still in hope and prayer that [the children] realized the house was burning and got out and ran," said Miller.

Prayer and a call

Miller says his first response to the news was to pray.

"At that point you put all your personal feelings behind you and you spring into action," said Miller, who notified Dr. Ray Butrum, Bedford County school superintendent. In turn, Butrum contacted each of the elementary school principals in the county, requesting the assistance of guidance counselors.

The area school's name is no coincidence. The Community family has rallied around the school. The Parent Teacher Organization sprang into action as parents dropped off water and cookies for the guest counselors.

Support has arrived even from slightly outside the community. Teacher Beth Ganues called The Main Street Café in Eagleville, enlisting the support of her partner owners Brad and Randy Ganues to provide food for emergency personnel who were still digging through the home's ashes late Monday.

Strong support

"While the teachers have been very concerned about their students, we've been very concerned about our faculty," said Neeley. "Our teachers are very close to the students in their classrooms."

Each of the students has attended Community Elementary throughout their academic careers -- Chloe since kindergarten, Gage since pre-K. The teachers who have spent a school year with the students have been given extra attention, a moment to step out in the hall, or even just a hug.

Even so, those teachers have been stalwart, according to Neeley. "We need to be with our kids," she described them as saying. "My kids need me now. They need me to be strong for them."

"We have a saying out here: family comes first," said Miller. "When you're here, you are part of this family. When one of us hurts, we all hurt."

Missing Molly

The staff is also impacted by the loss of grandmother Molly.

"She was very actively involved with their education. She was a frequent face in the building," Miller said.

The administrators remember Molly for her good humor and as being not afraid to speak her mind. Then again, she was also well-known for pointing at staff members in the hallways, "Hey. I'm praying for you. I want you to know that."

Special books

Just last Thursday, the McClarans had registered each student for the school's birthday book club, submitting a check to purchase a book for the library in Chloe and Gage's honor. Birthday honorees are allowed to select which book will carry their name on the cover.

If the students are not found, their classmates will select those books in their memory.

"We're still hoping it will be in honor of those students," said Miller.

"I never want to give up hope until I hear those words."