Friends and relatives packed Whitworth Community Presbyterian Church Saturday afternoon to remember four boys who were killed by a fire that destroyed their Spokane home and injured their parents.
They remembered 8-year-old Derek Schliebe’s bear hugs, 7-year-old Loren’s bubbly laugh, 4-year-old Steven’s compassion and 2-year-old Justin’s admiration for his older brothers.
“The four boys were about as close as brothers could be,” said Cindy Carter, associate pastor at Shadle Park Presbyterian. “Their lives have been a gift to us all.”
Carter talked about fishing trips the boys took and how the boys often crawled into bed with their parents. She smiled widely as she remembered Justin’s excitement over wrestling matches between the boys and their father.
“He was bound and determined to get on top,” Carter said.
The boys were killed during an early-morning fire that destroyed the Schliebe family home two weeks ago. Rob and Jill Schliebe, the boys’ parents, were seriously injured trying to save their sons.
Saturday, Rob and Jill - both still in wheelchairs - leaned on their parents and each other for support. Friends and relatives cried as Rob’s and Jill’s parents pushed them down the aisle to their seats.
Rob raised a bandaged hand to wipe tears from his rosy cheeks while Carter read a poem Jill had chosen. Rob gazed straight ahead at four photos of his smiling boys arranged on a table, his stare only broken when he turned to comfort his wife.
“Mommy and Daddy, why are you crying? Don’t be sad that I am gone,” Carter read. “Mommy and Daddy, I get to see you every day.”
White roses, symbols of the boys’ innocence, surrounded the pictures.
Dick Avery, the pastor at Shadle Park Presbyterian, said the next few months will be the time of greatest need for the Schliebes. He encouraged the community to continue to show its support as the reality of the fire sets in.
“They really haven’t had much of an opportunity for the two of them to be together (and talk about the tragedy),” Avery said.
Community support has been amazing, he said. Letters and donations have poured into Shadle Park Presbyterian from as far away as Costa Rica.
“Prayer has been the greatest gift you could have given this family,” said Greg Carter, associate pastor at Shadle Park Presbyterian.
Efforts to find comfort in the boys’ memories proved difficult, as tears flowed freely from nearly everyone who attended the service. However, many were comforted - and not surprised - by the community outpouring.
“Spokane has always been this way,” said Duane Ronc, who did not know the Schliebes. “This always has been a friendly town. They seem to take care of their own.”
Two crews from Spokane Ambulance, who treated Rob and Jill after they jumped from the burning house, were among the 200 or so people who attended the service. Like many others, they sought closure and offered their support.
“It helps us to deal with our feelings,” said Doug Whitehead, who was a medic in the first ambulance that arrived at the house on North Adams.
“We can offer (Rob and Jill) support. We’ve been there many times,” added medic Dennis Wright.
Physically, Rob’s and Jill’s wounds are healing. Jill was released from the hospital last week and is staying with friends from Shadle Park Presbyterian. Rob was also released from Deaconess Medical Center last week and has been moved to a rehabilitation facility.
Emotionally, Saturday’s service was just the beginning of the couple’s healing. But the final words of the poem gave them a good start.
“Mommy and Daddy, dry your tears, we are never far apart. I got the greatest gift of all, a halo and some wings.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo