'Sometimes the body can't handle what hits us,' priest says at service for Grosse Pointe boys
Mourners gathered Wednesday night for a prayer service in Grosse Pointe Farms to remember two young boys killed in a fire that swept through their home Monday morning.
Family members sat in the front row of St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church wearing hockey jerseys in honor of the young brothers who loved hockey. On the altar, two jerseys bearing the names of the boys, Walter Briggs Connolly, 11, and his younger sibling, Logan Connolly, 9, were held up by hockey sticks.
“When we decided on Monday to hold this service because of the magnitude of such loss, we had no idea that this would be the response,” said the Rev. Jim Bilot during the service. “The gathering space outside is just filled with people."
Hundreds gathered inside the church, the pews filled with many wearing hockey jerseys; others lined up outside under umbrellas in the rain after the fire marshal had declared the building to be at capacity.
Walter Connolly, the boys' father, shared stories about his sons at the start of the service, then returned to his seat, where, in his grief, he dropped his head onto the chest of family to his left.
Bilot told the crowd: "In this horrific time, please know (the boys) are not alone."
"Sometimes," he continued, "the body can't handle what hits us, but our guardian angel protects our soul."
He spoke directly to the family in the front row, saying their grief could have kept them away but instead "courageously set an example."
“You are a model for all of us with your faithful act of walking toward this instead of walking away,” he said. “… Let us light candles, listen to music, open our hearts and walk with them.”
At one point of the service, some mourners filed past the pews to embrace Connolly and his wife, Azucena Beltran-Connolly. Nearby stood candles emblazoned with pictures of their sons.
Earlier Wednesday, the Grosse Pointe police chief said arson was not the cause of the house fire that killed the brothers.
"Arson was ruled out late Tuesday," said Stephen Poloni, Grosse Pointe Public Safety director. "We can confirm that the fire started in the kitchen."
The chief said he couldn't say with certainty that a toaster in the kitchen of the Grosse Pointe home sparked the deadly blaze but it was among appliances from the kitchen being sent out for testing as part of the investigation into the fire.
"(The cause of the fire) could have been an appliance (or) it could have been electrical," Poloni said.
The investigation to determine the origin and cause of the fire could take a month or longer, he said.
Metro Detroiters and others have shown an outpouring of support for Walter Connolly and his wife. As of Wednesday afternoon, a GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $150,000 through 1,700 donors for Connolly, a schoolteacher, and his wife, who works for Dencap Dental Plans.
"The Connolly family suffered an unthinkable tragedy on Monday morning, " read a message Wednesday on the GoFundMe page. "In the fire that engulfed their home, they lost their two precious boys, Briggs and Logan. They also lost the house."