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Memorial Service Honors Victims of West Explosion

"No words adequately describe the courage that was displayed on that deadly night," President Barack Obama said of the first responders.



    Emotional Memorial in Waco

    Emotions ran high in Waco as family members paid tribute to the first responders who died in the West fertilizer plant explosion. (Published Thursday, April 25, 2013)

    Hundreds of first responders and their families gathered in Waco, Texas, Thursday to honor 12 first responders killed in last week's explosion in the nearby town of West. Fifteen people died and more than 200 were injured in the fertilizer plant blast that nearly leveled parts of the town.

    In a video tribute played at the memorial service, families of the fallen recalled their fathers, husbands, brothers and friends, in emotional clips that played on a big screen behind a dozen flag-draped coffins.

    Joseph Pustejousky's wife recalled his dimples, and through tears, she said words could not express how much she's going to miss him.

    Cody Dragoo's brother-in-law remembered his sister's beloved "Montana mountain man" who moved down to Texas and wooed her.

    Captain Douglas Snokhous' daughter remembered her "Daddy and Uncle Bob," Robert Snokhous, who both died in the blast. She said she couldn't wait to tell her infant son about what a hero his grandpa was.

    President Barack Obama, who had traveled to Waco for the memorial service, said he could not "match the power of the voices" in the video eulogies and said "no words adequately describe the courage that was displayed on that deadly night."

    "What I can do is offer the love and support and prayers of the nation," Obama said. 

    Obama traveled to Waco with the first lady from Dallas, where the couple had participated in the dedication of George W. Bush's presidential library earlier in the day. He told the crowd gathered in Waco that all the former presidents send their thoughts and prayers.

    Gov. Rick Perry, who was also on hand, called the stories of the fallen "an inspiration" but also "heartbreaking."

    Bill Gardner, a state fireman and fire marshal, told those struggling with grief in the wake of the devastating blast, that "we must continue on."

    "While the light coming from the darkness is not as bright as we want it to be, it exists," Gardner said.

    "We will always love and support you as your family member loved and supported us," Gardner said to the families of first responders lost in the blaze. "We will also remember them. They will not be forgotten."

    The event at the Ferrell Center at Baylor University was organized by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force.

    Ahead of the memorial Thursday, 1,000 firefighters from Texas and around the country rode in a motorcycle procession through the city of Waco, many with flags on the backs of their bikes.

    The town of West is still struggling to its feet after the April 17 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant killed 15 people, injured hundreds, destroyed 140 homes and wrought havoc on the town's infrastructure.

    The Red Cross is now assisting 180 families, and a boil order is still in effect for drinking water.