Sunday, September 01, 2002

Small town pays its respects

        We call it “paying our respects.” We send flowers. Sign the guest book. Make our way to the front of the funeral home or the church, hoping we'll think of something comforting to say when we get there.

        Sometimes we don't know the deceased. We know those who are left behind. And we imagine how we would feel in their shoes. It's somebody's mother or grandfather. Or, most wrenchingly, somebody's child.

        The memorial service Saturday was about as wrenching as it gets.

        The people of Warsaw, Ky., came to mourn the deaths of Cody Sharon, 6, and his sister, Chelbi, who would have been 8 years that day. Flowers filled the gymnasium at Gallatin County Elementary School with the familiar cool, funereal aroma. Photos in wood frames were affixed to posts stretching over the heads of many of the small mourners. Snapshots of a first two-wheeler, a day at the beach, a birthday party, a soccer team picture.

A genuine hero

        Courtney was there. She's the 10-year-old who - like her brother and sister - was stabbed during an early-morning break-in Aug. 23. But this child survived, running to a neighbor's for help.

        Someone introduced her as a hero.

        “I am not,” Courtney says firmly. Her grandfather, Garry Sharon, says Courtney memorized the license number of the vehicle driven by the man police later arrested on charges of murdering her brother and sister. “Hero” sounds about right.

        The man is the former boyfriend of a close friend of the children's mother, Carolyn Marksberry, who had supported efforts to break off an abusive relationship.

        Ms. Marksberry, who suffered 15 stab wounds, is “just an exceptional person,” says Mr. Sharon. She was expected to attend a private funeral today. Saturday's service - more of a reception, really - was marked only by a Girl Scout flag ceremony.

        It appeared to be an effort by this very gracious family to allow their hometown to mourn with them. “You expect when something like this happens that they'll turn inward, not reach out to others,” says Daryl Stephenson, carrying the inevitable casserole.

        In honor of Chelbi's birthday, her mother asked that toys be distributed to needy children. “This is just like Carolyn,” says her friend, Jennifer Ray.

        Carolyn Marksberry and the children's father, Curt Sharon, grew up in Warsaw, population 1,800. The people with bleak faces who came to the school were not curiosity seekers or dutiful mourners. They know the family - and each other. They stood in line for hours. They signed the guest book.

        Men pulled big white cotton hankies from their pockets. Women carried crumpled tissues. The Girl Scouts of Troop 357 surrounded Courtney. A burly man punched Curt Sharon gently on the shoulder.

        Daryl Stephenson carried his pasta salad down a hallway to people from area churches who are arranging meals for the family. Flowers arrived from teachers, schoolchildren, a car dealership, neighbors, the local Dairy Queen, the bank.

        An anguished community paid its respects.

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