Community holds funeral for family of 7 killed in Kentucky tornado

December 22, 2021
An urn containing the remains of six members of the Brown family are carried during the proceessional following the funeral at the Hillvue Heights Church in Bowling Green, Ky. on Dec. 21, 2021.  Seven members of the family were killed when a tornado tore through Bowling Green on Dec. 11.  The services were held for six of the seven who perished because the maternal grandmother's service will be held in Madisonville, Ky.


BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Set to soft piano music, the slideshow played across the big screens at Hillvue Heights Church Tuesday, showing photos of family trips to the pool, the beach, a pumpkin patch.

Kids posing at the aquarium. A young boy in a bow tie. Family members asleep in the car on a road trip. 

Memories of a family that is now gone. In a heartbeat.

Kentucky tornado deaths:7 members of same family killed ‘in the blink of an eye’

At least 76 Kentuckians died in the Dec. 10-11 tornadoes that devastated much of Western Kentucky. Seven belonged to the same Bowling Green household. 

Six of the Brown family — Steven, 35; Rachel, 36; Nariah, 16; Nyssa, 13; Nolynn, 8; and Nyles, 4 — were laid to rest Tuesday.

The seventh, Rachel’s mom, Victoria Smith, will have separate services Wednesday. 

A reassuring theme echoed across the visitation and two-hour service for the family, from exchanging quiet prayers to reading condolences aloud from other congregations: Trust in God’s timing, even if you don’t understand it. 

“It’s hard when you lose one,” the Rev. Chris Brandon, Steven Brown’s uncle, said. “But when you lose seven, my God.”

The family lived on a street where 12 people died, including five relatives from another family and eight children.

Kentucky tornado victims:Remembering those who died in the December storms

Cynthia Duncan, Steven’s mom, described her son as a “God-fearing man” and “a family man.”

He served two tours in Iraq, relatives said. His “high school, middle school sweetheart” Rachel and he became a couple after the tours, his stepfather said, “and Steven began to glow again.” 

Rachel had Nariah and Nyssa before marrying Steven, who was 35. The couple then had Nolynn and Nyles.

Then, suddenly, the tornadoes swept through, and Cynthia Duncan went from having five grandchildren to one.

Nariah took on a motherly role, the Rev. Terrence Duncan Sr. told the crowd, taking care of Nyles, including doing his hair. She was “a joy,” he said.

Nyssa was “a handful,” he said. One of her teachers attended the visitation, telling relatives the middle-schooler gave him just about all he could handle.

“But that’s who she was,” said Duncan. 

Nyles was “a glow, a busybody,” Duncan said. 

And Nolynn had a contagious smile — one he would always flash, even if he was chastised by his parents or picked on by peers, Duncan said. “He lit up a room,” his grandfather said. 

Nolynn got a Bible upon getting baptized, Duncan explained. But relatives couldn’t find it after the tornado tore through the family’s home. 

Days later, a woman called. She found the bright blue Bible in her backyard, safe. 

Duncan used that same Bible Tuesday to deliver the rest of his eulogy — a scripture about being prepared to meet God.

“You think you got time?” he asked the crowd. 

“Look at my babies,” he said, motioning to the family photos standing amid more than 20 funeral floral arrangements.

More:Where did Kentucky tornadoes hit? See damage by county

Afterward, Duncan walked away from the podium, took off his glasses, bowed his head and wept. 

Moments later, he walked out of the church alongside his wife. 

Behind them, someone carried a single flag-themed urn — an entire family to be together. Forever. 

Reach Olivia Krauth at [email protected] and on Twitter at @oliviakrauth


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