President Obama said the country will help the people of West, Texas, rebuild their community and consoled the small town during a funeral service Thursday for the 12 first responders killed in last week’s fertilizer plant explosion that also injured several dozen people.
“We may not all live here in Texas, but we’re neighbors, too,” the president said during the service at Baylor University in nearby Waco, Texas. “We’re Americans, too, and we stand with you and we do not forget. And we’ll be there even after the cameras leave and the attention turns elsewhere.”
The West Fertilizer Co. plant erupted into flames April 18 and then exploded, killing at least 15 people, wounding more than 160 others and leveling dozens of homes.
Thursday’s funeral service featured video tributes to the dead, whose caskets were draped in either the American or Texas state flag.
Obama spoke of the volunteers who raced to the fire while dropping their schoolwork or leaving their families to jump on fire trucks to fight the flames.
“What makes West special, what puts it on the map is what makes it familiar: the people who live there, neighbors you can count on -- places that haven’t changed,” the president said.
He said the small town’s character was on display in the response to the fire and resulting explosion.
“Today I see in the people of West, in your eyes, that what makes West special isn’t going to go away,” Obama said. “Instead of changing who you are, this tragedy has simply revealed who you’ve always been. America needs towns like West. That’s what makes this country great -- is towns like West. Across America, people are praying for you and thinking of you.”
Family members of those killed spoke about their loved ones in taped remarks shown on a large video screen.
Carmen Bridges, wife of West volunteer firefighter Morris Bridges, said he “loved his job” and “was always ready to work.”
Fighting back tears, she recounted the last moments with her husband.
“The last words that we heard Morris say -- he got the call for the fire. Usually he just ran out of the house without stopping as fast as he could, but he stopped that day and picked [his son] up and said, ‘Daddy loves you and I’ll be back.’ But he didn’t come back.”
Bridges said her husband “is a hero not only to his children, but to his community and he will be missed.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the people of West have “seen their hometown so profoundly impacted, seen so many injured” but will overcome the tragedy.
“Just know that the spirit that drove those men that we loved, they live on,” he said. “Their spirit lives on.”