WINKLER, Man. - Close to 1,000 mourners packed a Mennonite church Wednesday to pay respects to four young brothers killed in a house fire in southern Manitoba.
The service in Winkler was simple, mournful, but also tinged with hope that the surviving family members can begin to rebuild their lives with an outpouring of public support, said the reeve of the rural area.
"It was a typical Mennonite faith-based service — a lot of singing, a lot of calls to faith ... a lot of calls for the healing process to begin and a hope in the afterlife," Ralph Groening said after the service.
"I think (the parents) are in shock. I really do. I think it's reassuring to have 1,000 people mourning with them, but they're in shock. They're moving ahead slowly."
One of the songs played at the ceremony was "Jesus Loves Me", a favourite of Henry Froese, the youngest of the boys who died. "Amazing Grace" and "I'll Fly Away" were also played.
Smiling school pictures of the four boys, aged between 9 and 15, adorned the program for the memorial service.
Henry, Bobby, Timmy and Danny were killed a week ago when their rural two-storey farmhouse in the hamlet of Kane burned to the ground. Their mother, Doralee Eberhardt, was able to escape with three other siblings, but the boys were in the upper floor and could not get out. The father, Jake Froese, and the couple's eldest son, Steven, 18, were just returning from work and tried to rescue the boys, but the flames and smoke were too much.
People have reached out by raising tens of thousands of dollars to help the surviving family members, as well as to provide furniture and clothing. One church offered the family a house, and they have accepted.
Groening said the memorial service highlighted the boys' interests — playing outdoors, working with tools and spending time with family.
"A very outdoorsy, very down-to-earth, very middle-class kind of family, hard-working family," he said.
"Obviously, wonderful boys and a tragic loss."
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.