Denise Sanders held the string of a white balloon loosely in her hand, waiting for it to take flight.
"You gonna go, Terri - Go!" the grandmother said to the balloon as she released it to the nighttime sky.
Ms. Sanders and hundreds of others released balloons with handwritten messages on them at the end of a memorial service held last night to remember her granddaughter and six other children killed by an apartment fire Sunday in South Toledo.
"It touched me. It melted my heart. It was so special," Ms. Sanders said of the service held at Reynolds Elementary School, where her 6-year-old granddaughter, Terri Sanders, and two of the other children - Quanisha Kirk and Teairia McCullough, both age 7 - attended.
Smoke from a fire which began in a rear bedroom at 5118 Norwich Rd. killed the girls as well as Brian McCullough, 5; and his sisters, Brionna McCullough, 2; Talia Sanders, 19 months, and Tanija Sanders, 7 months.
Six of them were siblings and the seventh, Quanisha, was their cousin.
Fire officials believe the blaze was started on a mattress or bedding by one of the children using a match, lighter, or candle.
The service not only helped Ms. Sanders, who lost three grandchildren in the blaze, it brought comfort to other relatives, friends, classmates, and teachers.
"They didn't really know us, but they came out," Prentiss Brown, the victims' cousin, said of the teachers, staff, friends, and strangers who filled the school gymnasium. "We never really experienced anything of this magnitude. We don't know what the outcome will be. There's a long road ahead."
Faculty members, including the girls' teachers, wore ribbons with the three students' pictures, and handed out programs stuffed with a bookmark.
"Quanisha was too young to die and she had so much to live for," said Jean Spies, her first-grade teacher, who choked back tears.
First-grade teacher Michelle Nordhaus said Teairia was "a precious gift" who had hope, strength, and grace.
"She will leave a living, lasting memory in our hearts. She will never be forgotten," Mrs. Nordhaus said.
Terri's kindergarten teacher, Sandy Ahrens, read a tribute from the girl's classmates.
"Wherever she is, we hope she is spreading the same joy she has shown us and given us on a daily basis," she said.
The service, which began on a somber note, brightened when children from the Indiana Avenue Baptist Children's Choir and the Newbury Elementary School Choir began singing uplifting, religious songs.
The music moved the grieving parents and children, as did a prayer offered by the Rev. Sylvester Rome of Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church.
"These children are now in God's day care," he said. "He will not let anything bad happen to them again."
Afterward, family members looked at remembrances prepared by the school. Seven angels with the children's names, a basket with stories and stuffed animals, scrapbooks from the teachers, and cards from students at other schools were among the items.
"We need [the memorial] for closure, to try to find a way to move on," Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Sanders said before the service.
That's what many attendees, including Monica Shartzer and her 6-year-old daughter, Destani Moore, said they were seeking. Destani attended first grade with Teairia and kindergarten with Quanisha.
"I'm hoping to say good-bye," Destani said.
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