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The glow of hundreds of candles lit saddened faces Thursday night outside of Southeast Bulloch High School as a community remembered a family whose lives were lost in a house fire the day before.
Memories of Russell and Wendi Davis and their daughters Susannah and Haley were on the lips and minds of everyone as photographs of the four flitted across a screen. Parents hugged their children and students clung to each other as the candles burned brightly in the chilly air, two years ago to the day that some of the same students stood in the same spot, mourning the loss of another classmate.
A vigil in 2009 honored the memory of student Lori Blitch, who died after a sudden illness. Thursday, everyone shared fond memories of good times with Stilson’s Davis family.
The parking lot was overflowing and hundreds gathered with candles lit while SEB Principal Trey Robertson spoke, announcing that honorary pallbearers for the Davis’ funeral, held Saturday at 1 p.m. at Statesboro’s First Baptist Church, will be the Southeast Bulloch High Class of 2011 and 2013 and members of the school’s band.
“Often times, life and death are simply beyond our understanding,” he said. He read the Davis’ obituaries, sharing information about each family member.
Russell Davis was employed with Hodges Management Company and served as deacon of the Old Fellowship Baptist Church.
Wendi Davis, a substitute teacher with the Bulloch County Board of Education, was also an active member of Old Fellowship Baptist Church; a member of the Daughters of American Colonists and enjoyed china painting, reading and collecting antique dishes. Both she and Russell Davis were active in all of their children’s lives and their church and school events.
Susannah was a 2011 Honor Graduate of Southeast Bulloch High School where she was a member of the band, “Yellow Jacket Swarm’s” percussion division. She also was the Homecoming Queen in 2010, Prom Queen in 2011 and Prom Princess her junior year. She was a freshman at the University of Georgia.
Haley Davis was a junior at Southeast Bulloch High School — an honor student and captain of the “Yellow Jacket Swarm” percussion division. She was also a member of the FFA’s Parliamentary Procedure Team and the school Literary Team.
While others spoke during the vigil, yellow paper banners were posted behind them, carrying words of love and memories from fellow students.
SEB Coach Mike Sparks led the group in prayer. “We’ve lost some wonderful people,” he said.
Charles Howell, a friend of the Davises who shared an interest in the band boosters and who also attends their church, said “I wish there was something I could do to fix this, or something I could say to make it all go away, but I can’t.”
He spoke about times spent with the Davises and how Haley Davis had borrowed his “Lord of the Rings” DVDs, but never got the chance to watch all of them.
“We are all diminished by the loss of Russell, Wendi, Susannah and Haley,” he said. “… But, we are also lifted up and enriched through their lives.”
He described the family as “solid Christians” and said they would be remembered by “their smiles, their laughter, their lives.”
SEB Band Director Matt Olsen said “There are no words to describe” the Davis family. “This is a rough time. We’re all going to miss them. They’re not going to be with us in body anymore. If you knew the Davis family, you know there was never a dark moment. Always a hug, always a smile.
They would want us to remember them for who they were,” he said.
Several students took turns speaking about the family, expressing their feelings and sharing memories. One unidentified student recalled how he was with Haley and Susannah Davis when they drove through a line at a local fast food eatery.
They were playing Missy Elliot’s song “Work It” and “Haley got out and thought it was a good idea to dance on top of the car,” he said. The group of friends was often called “the wolf pack,” he said.
As the vigil came to a close, Roberson spoke again. “What I will remember most about this family is their smiles,” he said.
According to the Bulloch County Sheriff's office, autopsies were performed Thursday at the GBI’s coastal regional lab and were attended by Bulloch County Sheriff's investigators. While the official reports from the Medical examiner still are pending, investigators are confident the deaths were the result of an accidental fire in the home and no foul play is suspected.
Russell, Wendi, Susannah and Haley Davis family are survived by sister Delaney Davis of Alpharetta; brother Josh Davis of Savannah; sister Jaci Davis Smith of Birmingham, Ala. and brother, Nathan Davis of Brooklet in addition to several other extended family members.
Visitation will be today from 4 to 8 p.m. at Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home in Statesboro.
Funeral services will be Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Statesboro First Baptist Church. Interment will be in the Clito Baptist Church Cemetery.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.