ZEPHYRHILLS — A bear of a man crumpled in the front of the church, leaned down hard on the table that displayed the urns of his two children. He pressed his big hand to his face and turned around, weaved quickly through mourners to the exit.
"That's Jimmy," a man seated in a pew whispered to a woman, who clutched a tissue.
Jimmy Moore, boyfriend of the children's mother, Anise Bourque, father figure to Hunter and Mackenze Freeman for most of their short lives. Hunter, 10, and Mackenze, 9, died in a fire at the family's mobile home last week. Both children were severely disabled and couldn't crawl or communicate, in the sense of speaking or gestures. But they could convey happiness. And joy.
If you tickled Hunter at the right spot, on his left side, bottom of his ribs, he couldn't stop giggling. Hunter and Mackenze would lie on their backs and wave their arms at each other, a game of their own, making each other laugh. If Hunter didn't want to do something, he pretended to be asleep. When he had a bad day, and the child had many, nearly dying many times from seizures, only his mother could comfort him. Bourque surrounded her children with bright colors, because they liked them.
Bourque had just left the home for a minute, to fetch Moore, who was working maintenance at the mobile home park. Their two other children, Walker, who is Hunter's 10-year-old twin, and Austin, 8, played outside. Walker ran to his mother to tell her there was smoke coming out of the house.
Bourque ran inside the burning building but couldn't reach the children. Neighbors tried to crawl to them and, when that didn't work, they tried to claw their way through to them, using axes and yard tools and a chain saw. The children were dead.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated.
Through the holes they punched through the walls, as the men fought the fire, they could see Hunter and Mackenze. Moore tried to reach them. He could see Mackenze's arm. He screamed that she was on fire.
These are the images left.
"There are no words to convey the depth of this pain," said the Rev. Janet Lee of New River Methodist Church, where Hunter and Mackenze's memorial service was held Wednesday afternoon.
The service waited for Moore to be back in his seat to begin. A few hundred people attended. The church is a short walk from the mobile home park. Bourque and Moore went back there for the first time Tuesday, to get some things out of their shed. The house and their belongings were destroyed. They've been staying with family since that night. A neighbor said Bourque seems to have lost 20 pounds this past week. She can't eat. She stayed outside the house 15 minutes and had to leave. It was too much.
"Why does a tragedy like this happen? What could justify the deaths of these innocent children?" Lee said. "There are no good answers to these questions.
"There is no way to make sense of this."
She said God has a plan. There is a reason for everything. She asked everyone to find strength in God and in each other.
"The Holy Spirit can and will bring comfort and healing," she said.
Lee urged people to not think of Hunter and Mackenze as disabled, because their family didn't. The children went to school. They were included in every outing. They had personalities. They were a gift, not a burden.
"They were happy and loved and loving," Lee said. "Their lives were not empty or sad."
At the end of the service, Moore, Walker, Austin and Bourque clung to each other, this new family, this new life. Bourque and Moore had Hunter and Mackenze cremated so they can take them with them, wherever they go, which for now is uncertain.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.