‘Purple’ Sky

Published 9:02 am Tuesday, March 11, 2014

One small section of Ahoskie Elementary School students release purple balloons on Monday in memory of their former classmate, Aaliyah Cherry who lost her life in a house fire in Ahoskie last week. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

One small section of Ahoskie Elementary School students release purple balloons on Monday in memory of their former classmate, Aaliyah Cherry who lost her life in a house fire in Ahoskie last week. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

AHOSKIE – Aaliyah Cherry was smiling Monday afternoon as purple balloons made their way skyward over Ahoskie Elementary School.

After all, purple is Aaliyah’s favorite color.

Those colorful orbs, drifting high into a bright, blue sky, each contained a message from Ahoskie Elementary School students of the love they have for their former classmate. Aaliyah, age 13 and a 6th grader at AES, tragically lost her life – along with her 14-year-old sister, Angel – when a fire erupted in their Mitchell Street home early Thursday morning.

Funeral services for the sisters will be held at 12 noon on Saturday at the Hertford County High School gym. Reynolds Funeral Home of Ahoskie is handling the arrangements.

“It’s been a tough couple of days for our family here at Ahoskie Elementary,” said school Principal Stan Warren, dressed appropriately in a purple shirt and tie as he stood in front of hundreds of students gathered on the AES activity field.

“It still seems so unreal, but we know how Aaliyah has touched us, the things she has done for us here at this school; she’ll continue to do those things, just from a different place,” Warren added.

Hertford County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Valerie O’Kelley said mere words cannot express the loss that students, staff and administrators feel across the local school district as well as those within the communities of the county.

“I know that the messages in your balloons will touch someone’s life,” she said. “We realize there are no words to express the loss we have experienced. But we do know that sympathy can take us down the road to solace.”

O’Kelly also praised the support the Cherry/Drake family and HCPS has received in this tragedy.

“In tragedy such as this, we have seen an outpouring of support from the community,” she stated. “In your grief, remember the kind of people that Angel and Aaliyah were….all I hear about them is that they were happy, very much loved and got along with everyone.”

Christa Faison Hall added to the ceremony by singing, “I Look To You,” as a tribute to the family and friends of the fire victims.

Members of the Cherry/Drake family were invited to stand up front as the students released the balloons.

Inside the 6th grade hall of the school, a memorial to Aaliyah covers several walls. A pink teddy bear sits at a desk, also adorned in pink ribbons. In the background are hundreds of cards, handmade by her classmates.

“They (the students) started this memorial on Thursday and it’s grown since that time,” noted Warren. “They are trying their best, as are all of us here at Ahoskie Elementary, to cope with this tragedy.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, the sisters’ 8-year-old brother, Omarion “Mouse” Drake, is fighting for his life at a burn center in Cincinnati, Ohio. He and his father, 54-year-old Earl Drake (also the father to the girls), managed to escape the blaze, but both suffered burns. Mr. Drake remains hospitalized at Sentara Norfolk General.

A spokesperson for the family said Omarion “wiggled his toes” for the first time over the weekend, hailed as a positive step in his recovery. They also noted that Mr. Drake was placed in an induced coma to aid in his recovery.

The family was not insured. Thusly, a special fund (the Cherry Family Fund) has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank in Ahoskie. Chief District Court Judge Rob Lewis and the Rev. C. David Stackhouse, pastor of New Ahoskie Baptist Church, were in charge of establishing the special bank account.

Additionally, Ahoskie Elementary School students have been given the opportunity to pay $1 per day to break from their normal school uniform routine and wear solid colored shirts. Monday was “purple day” at the school. The remainder of the week will see students dressed in yellow shirts on Tuesday; orange on Wednesday; green on Thursday; and pink on Friday.

“The shirts will demonstrate our unity as a school family as we mourn the loss of our student and friend,” said a note sent home to parents and guardians of AES students.

The money collected will be used to purchase smoke detectors, in memory of Aaliyah Cherry, for those in need within the local community.

The fire that claimed the two sisters and seriously injured their brother and father started when a kerosene heater was placed too close to combustible materials, according to Ahoskie Fire Chief Ken Dilday. There were no smoke detectors in the home.


About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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