Four brothers laid to rest after fatal house fire in rural Manitoba

About a thousand mourners packed a Mennonite church in the rural Manitoba community of Winkler to pay respects to four boys killed in a southern Manitoba house fire.

'None of us can imagine this family's pain' says pastor

Four brothers who died in a house fire near Kane, Man. last week were laid to rest Wednesday in Winkler. Henry Froese was 9, Danny 11, Timmy 12, and Bobby was 15. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

About a thousand mourners packed a Mennonite church in the rural Manitoba community of Winkler to pay respects to four boys killed in a southern Manitoba house fire.

​The funeral for the four Froese brothers, Bobby, 15, Timmy, 12, Danny, 11, and Henry, 9, was held Wednesday at Bergthaler Mennonite Church in Winkler.

They died when they were trapped on the second floor of their rural home which burned to the ground Feb. 25.

Photos of the boys' smiling faces were on the memorial service's program, which described their interests and activities.

One of the songs sung during the service was the children's Bible song "Jesus Loves Me."

CBC's Jill Coubrough said there wasn't an empty seat in the church.

"Every seat was full. There was overflow into the hallways," she said.

Sight of 4 coffins lowered into ground shakes family 

The boys were buried this morning, before the funeral service, which was officiated by Pastor Glen Siemens, was held.

"I think the pastor said it best when he said today was about celebrating the lives and love for these four boys. And to face this tragedy head on. He said none of us can imagine this family's pain. He said they'll never forget that image of those four coffins being simultaneously lowered into the ground before the service this morning."   

Coubrough said the impact of the tragedy was evident on the mourners' faces.

"The mood [was] very sombre. People were quiet. The look on many faces was [that they were] very much still in shock and disbelief. They watched slide shows of the boys, photos from Halloween, playing in the farm yard, the boys on Christmas morning. Two of the boys' teachers spoke, as well as an aunt.  Perhaps what was most notable and powerful was how strong everybody seemed.  Even the family. The community has really been an army."

Coubrough said an aunt and a teacher also spoke during the service and described what the boys were like. 

"Bobby, the 15-year-old boy, was known as a big guy with a big heart," she said. "He was a real show stopper in drama. He had a passion for cooking and learning. Timmy, 12 years old, was described as his dad's sidekick with a million dollar smile. Danny loved his donkey and riding in the boat. And Henry was the youngest, described as quiet and shy. He loved nature and he was his class's rock expert."

Mourners at the funeral for the four Froese boys were given these family photos in the program for the boys' funeral service. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)
The boys are survived by four siblings - Steven,18, Susie, 8, Lisa, 5, and William, 2, as well as their parents Doralee Eberhardt and Jacob Froese.

'We're still pretty shaken up' says uncle

The boy's uncle, Henry Froese Jr., said earlier the service would be a difficult for everyone.

"Everyone is going to be clinging together and holding their kids a little bit tighter," he said. 

- Henry Froese Jr.

He says the family is still devastated by what happened.

"We're all still pretty shaken up. Trying to comfort each other, I guess. It's just hard to accept, a loss for words."

Froese Jr. says the family is taking comfort in the outpouring of love it's received from the community.

"My brother has told me repeatedly how grateful he is for all the donations and support he's getting from the community. He's just floored by how many people are standing up and helping out."

Pictures of the boys from the program at their funeral service. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)
The boys' grandmother, Beverley May Eberhardt, agrees.

But she says her daughter, Doralee, the boys' mother, is still in shock over the loss of her children. 

"My daughter, she's like under a lot of stress for her. She was ok, but she was quiet and didn't say much," she said. 

She says the family has now moved into a home in nearby Lowe Farm but is still struggling to come to terms with the deaths.

Eberhardt says it's difficult for the boys' siblings to make sense of what happened.

"The little ones, they won't understand because they're a bit too young but the eight year old, she's understanding a little bit. It's very hard."

Busload of students attend funeral 

Timmy Froese, 12, along with brothers Danny, 11, Henry, 9, and Bobby, 15, died in a house fire in Kane, Man., on February 25th. (Facebook)
The Rural Municipality of Morris where Kane is located continues to rally behind the family.

Reeve Ralph Groening said the funeral would be painful for many people in the community.

"It will be a day of sadness, it will be a day of mourning. The local schools are taking many of the students to the funeral, the memorial service. That will set a very sombre note for the community. "

Groening adds the community members have been leaning on each other since the fire happened.

It will be a day of sadness, it will be a day of mourning.- reeve Ralph Groening

"You really don't know how to respond other than [to] share your feelings, share your experiences. That's what they're doing. It's a pulling together, really a pulling together of the community."

Local business owners to donate profits 

Support from the community, in particular from business owners in Winkler, is still coming in. 

Dominion Outdoors in the Southland Mall said it will donate 100 per cent of its profits on Thursday to the family.  

Manager Tomm Penner said he didn't know the family personally but felt compelled to help.

"You know this is a tight knit area," he said. "When something like this happens so close to home, you feel like you know them. It's still resonates."

Penner approached other businesses to join him and three other stores, also in Winkler, are also donating their profits Thursday to the Froese family. 

Penner said the business owners jumped at the chance to help. 

Firefighters and investigators bowed their heads as they sifted through what was left of the Froese family home on Feb. 25. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
​"Running a business, it's not just about me," Penner said. "It's about other people and often that's the customer. But in this case it's also about that family. And we all want to come together and help them."

The businesses' donations are in addition to fundraising efforts for the family that, as of Tuesday night, totalled nearly $164,000 through the Access Credit Union and donations to GoFundMe.

Another group, Donate Love, was also collecting food and clothing for the family, but has reached their goal.

Cause of fire still under investigation

The Office of the Fire Commissioner says the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The ruins of the farmhouse were still smouldering hours after the fire happened. (CBC)
Last week, Eberhardt told CBC the family's eldest son, 18-year-old Steven, was coming home from work with his father early on Feb. 25 when he called his mother around midnight to tell her they were hungry.

The grandmother told CBC News she believes that phone call woke Doralee up, and as a result she was able to get out of the house with the three youngest children when the fire started at about 12:30 a.m. CT.

The children's father, Jacob Froese, called 911 after he and Steven arrived at the house, which is located in the tiny south-central Manitoba community of Kane.

Father tried to rescue boys

Eberhardt says the father tried to rescue the four boys, who were trapped on the top floor of the two-storey house, but heavy smoke and intense heat made it impossible.

"They got a ladder and went on the roof, and as soon as he opened the window, the fire and smoke blew him right off there," Eberhardt said last week. 

Henry Froese Jr. added his brother tried in vain to enter the burning house before getting the ladder.

​"Apparently, it's three times he went back into the house - almost couldn't find his way back out," he said.

​"And then he tried to get a ladder and start going up the side of the house to get his kids and the ladder just melted from the heat and he collapsed."

with files from The Canadian Press


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