Memorial service in Sheffield honors six from town who died in past week

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SHEFFIELD — After a week of immeasurable loss, more than 75 people filled the pews at First Congregational Church of Sheffield on Saturday to honor six people from the town who have died in the past week.

Mourners of several denominations, many of them sporting somber, exhausted faces, slowly moved their lips along to hymns and prayer as a community Saturday night.

"This prayer service is in response to the past week's tidal wave of just horrible news both locally and all around the world," said the Rev. Erik Karas of Christ Trinity Church in Sheffield. "If the prayer part isn't what you need, everybody eats."

Days after a Sheffield man apparently killed his wife and three young children in a murder-suicide, and a Sheffield native died in a plane crash in Ethiopia, clergy from around the county gathered with community members for prayer and a potluck. The clergy also memorialized the 50 people killed in Friday's shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Visitors were greeted by therapy dogs.

Karas and the Rev. Jill Graham of First Congregational told those who attended that, in times of grief and sadness, humans were built to come together as a group.

"Some of you may be wondering what kind of town this is. Well, we're a town of normal folks," Karas said. "What makes us different tonight is that this normal, messy group has come together as a community."

Samya Stumo, 24, who died along with 156 others in the Ethiopian Airlines crash March 10, grew up in Sheffield and, years ago, played cello at First Congregational. At the time of her death, Stumo was on her way to Uganda to work on her first project with the global public health organization ThinkWell.

Stumo's mother, Nadia Milleron, provided a statement to the media that was read at the event.

"As a person, Samya was a fearless, radiant spirit who inspired others to live brightly and fully," she said in the statement. "Professionally, Samya was ambitious and passionate about revolutionizing global health. She cared most about treating all people and patients as human beings, particularly in the context of their culture, family and individuality. She advocated for health care to be human-centered, rejecting the status quo in global health development."

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John Arthur Miller, who sang a hymn with his wife, Trudy, remembers Stumo when she was younger and played the cello at church.

In Sheffield, a community of just over 3,000, there is a sense of familiarity between residents, even those who don't know each other personally, he explained.

"You see people at the post office, at the transfer station, the bank. You know faces, you may not know names," he said. "There is a bond that is especially present in small towns. It doesn't have to be that way. We hope it has a ripple effect."

Erica McLaughlin, whose husband is a local pastor, attended the gathering with her 11-year-old daughter, Adara, who attended Undermountain Elementary School with 7-year-old twins Alex and Zoe Karpinski, who were killed in the Sheffield fire.

Adara's 8-year-old brother was school friends with Alex.

"It was really hard for him," McLaughlin said about her son. "He's had a couple of breakdowns over the last few days."

"I knew the twins," Adara said, speaking of Zoe. "On the bus, she [Zoe] would hug us and say hello."

McLaughlin said she has used the past few days to talk to her children about grief and loss.

"I explained that we have to make the most of the time we have," she said. "To thank God for life."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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