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Mourners in Rock Hill remember 11-year-old hotel victim

By Don Worthington
dworthington@heraldonline.com"

ROCK HILL As picture after picture appeared on the big screen in the sanctuary of Rock Hill’s First Baptist Church Sunday, it was clear Jeffrey Lee Williams loved life.

The screen showed pictures of the 11-year-old building sand castles and surf fishing at the beach with his dad, Jeffrey; pictures of him looking for Easter eggs and opening Christmas gifts; pictures of him practicing his violin; and many pictures of him cuddling with his mother, Jeannie, and his older sister, Breanne.

In most pictures the blonde-haired Jeffrey had an irrepressible smile.

His smile, “that’s Jeffrey in a nutshell,” said Derek Faile, a 22-year-old friend of the family who went on mission trips with the Williamses. “If you spent five minutes with him, you were attached to him.”

Jeffrey died June 8 while staying at a Best Western motel in Boone, N.C., the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning. The incident also sickened his mother, who attended Sunday’s service in a wheelchair. They were in Boone to visit Breanne at a summer science camp.

The Williamses were staying in the same hotel room where Daryl Dean Jenkins, 73, and Shirley Mae Jenkins, 72, of Longview, Wash., died April 16, also from carbon monoxide.

The room is over the motel swimming pool and records show there were deficiencies with an indoor gas heater. Jeffrey and his mother had high levels of carbon monoxide in their systems, a colorless, odorless gas that blocks the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.

The deaths, said the head of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, “should have never happened.” Dr. Brent Hall, the Watauga County medical examiner, resigned last week.

The Revs. Scott Davis, pastor at Northside Baptist Church where the Williams family attends, and Jerry Sosebee of the S.C. Baptist Convention, told the standing-room only crowd not to try to make sense of the events surrounding Jeffrey’s death.

“There are so many emotions, grief,” the Rev. Davis said. “But amidst the sadness, there is cause for celebration, a way to experience the awesomeness that is life with God.”

“In our hearts we are crushed, but we are not destroyed,” the Rev. Davis said. He encouraged everyone to be strong in their faith. This was an action of Satan not God, and that God is in control.

With faith, Davis said, “we can believe in things we cannot always see clearly.”

Davis and Sosebee used Jeffrey as an example of such strong faith.

Jeffrey’s faith was so grounded that he would help his teachers pronounce the difficult Greek and Hebrew names of the Old Testament, said Scott Crouch, minister of children at Northside Baptist.

He brought his Bible to church every time he went, Crouch said, setting an example for his peers and their parents.

Sosebee recalled that Jeffrey wanted to share his faith with others.

When he decided to accept Jesus Christ and be baptized, Jeffrey asked Sosebee to baptize him in the family’s swimming pool with everyone in attendance. Photos of the baptism were shown on the big screens at First Baptist Church before the service.

After the service, long lines of friends filled the church’s foyer, patiently waiting to give their condolences and words of encouragement to the Williams. In a statement in the service’s program, the family said, “the loss of our son. . . has been made tolerable by God’s love poured out on our family by each and every act of love performed by you.”

Burial services were private. Condolences may be made at www.greenefuneralhome.net.

As people departed First Baptist, some said they came because they were friends of the family. Others said they had a “more distant relationship” with the Williams family, but it was important as Christians to show their support.

Ed Barnard, who said he knew the family from church and home-school groups, said he brought his son so he could understand that with all the events of the past week, “you can still trust in God.”

Sosebee said the many memories of Jeffrey will be a comfort to the family.

Crouch, the Northside minister of children, recalled one such moment on a mission trip to South Dakota. Jeffrey, he said, had a question he wanted to ask Noah when he got to heaven. Crouch said he was sure Jeffrey already has his answer.

Jeffrey wanted to ask Noah, Crouch said, “What did you do with all the poo on the ark?”

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066
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