Service honors victims

Associated Press
Crosses -- a large one surrounded by seven smaller ones representing each student killed in the fire -- stand outside the beach house that burned in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.

COLUMBIA --- Hundreds of University of South Carolina students somberly filed into a theater Wednesday to remember six classmates who were killed in a beach house fire in North Carolina.


The main stage was adorned with six wreaths, each bearing a single red flower. A seventh wreath was decorated in purple and orange, a tribute to the Clemson University student who also was killed in the Oct. 28 blaze.

"We have now had seven funerals," said Dennis Pruitt, the university's vice president for student affairs. "Still, we find we have an ache in our hearts that just won't leave. But we must carry on. Folding our losses into our own lives, we must each return our focus to living."

The seven South Carolina college students were killed at a house in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., where they had been celebrating the last of the season's warm weather. Six students survived.

Authorities have ruled the fire accidental and said a discarded cigarette or other smoking materials might have caused it.

Gov. Mark Sanford said the tragedy evoked questions without answers, but one day they will be revealed.

"What I do know is there's a loving God out there who creates and brings purpose to every good and bad thing in this lifetime," Mr. Sanford said. "In keeping their spirits alive, we honor their passion by indeed making sure we keep passion in every one of our lives."

The students were at the beach watching college football and having a good time. Most were described as outgoing, avid Gamecock football fans.

In addition to students at the memorial wearing the school colors, garnet and black, some students wore ribbons, and each was handed a black sticker emblazoned with the school seal and "Forever to Thee," the last line of the university's alma mater. Some wiped tears away even before the memorial started.

All six survivors and family members of the victims were in attendance, Mr. Pruitt said.

After the memorial, the families planned to attend an informal reception at the school's Greek village, hosted by the Delta Delta Delta sorority and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.