Thousands of people gathered at Baylor University's Ferrell Center in Waco to remember 12 people who died fighting a devastating fertilizer plant fire on April 17. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attended the service, flying in from the morning dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center at SMU.
"We are here to say you are not alone. You are not forgotten. We may not all live here in Texas but we’re neighbors too. We’re Americans too," Obama said to great applause. He then added, "We’ll be there even after the cameras leave."
"We may not all live here in Texas but we’re neighbors too. We’re Americans too," President Obama said.
The victims honored at the April 25 memorial were: Morris Bridges, 41; Perry Calvin, 37; Jerry Chapman, 26; Cody Dragoo, 50; Kenneth Harris, 52; Jimmy Matus, 52; Joey Pustejovsky, 29; Cyrus Reed, 29; Kevin Sanders, 33; Doug Snokhaus, 50; Robert Snokhaus, 48; William "Buck" Uptmor Jr., 45.
The Waco Tribune-Herald reports that "honorary firefighters" Matus and Uptmor joined the flag-draped caskets of 10 firefighters for a total of 12 memorial honorees.
Baylor president Kenneth Starr, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Gov. Rick Perry all spoke at the service, praising the bravery and selflessness of the men who lost their lives.
"First responders know better than anyone that there is no such thing as a routine emergency," Perry said. "We will never forget what happened here, nor forget the sacrifices of those who first responded."
Each of the families offered heartfelt video tributes to the departed. They told stories about their everyday lives, from first jobs at ice cream shops to a love of riding horses and going fishing, and also their selfless service to others.
Morris Bridges lost his life fighting the fertilizer plant fire. His wife says before leaving to fight the fire, Bridges picked up his 2-year-old son and said, "Daddy loves you, and I’ll be right back."