By MICHAEL BROWNING
MADISON -- Robert Cooper knows fear.
He feels it every time he goes into the dark of the Aracoma Coal mine at Melville. In 2006, Aracoma was the site of a mine fire that killed two miners.
Cooper wasn't working there at the time; he's only been working underground for the past two years. But, he said he's been to the place where the two miners were killed and he said it feels eerie to him.
Cooper had just gotten off work on Friday when he stopped on his way home to Greenview to attend the miner memorial at the Boone County Courthouse in Madison.
"I didn't work there when the mine fire happened and I've heard a lot about it," Cooper said. "It's hard to take in when something like this happens.
"Everybody has that fear. When I first started working under ground, they told me to never lose that fear because when you do lose it, that's when it's going to get you. You think about it every day. When stuff like this happens, it makes you sit down and think about it even more."
Hundreds of people, including many coal miners attended Friday night's memorial service. At that time, people were still clinging to the hope that four miners who were missing after the explosion at Performance Coal's Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal would be found alive.
Around 12:30 a.m., work came that all four of the miners were found dead inside the mine, bringing the fatality total to 29.
Ron Stollings said he had been to the mine site three times this week and the families were wanting closure.
"They are very tired and they are anxious to move on," Stollings said. "Getting closure is so important to everyone."
Madison Mayor Sonny Howe said people have "heavy hearts."
"I know all of us have heavy hearts over this," Howe said.
Howe read the Psalms 23 with the crowd.
There was a moment of silence during the candlelight vigil. Many people attended wearing miners' clothing with the orange reflective strips. Children wore miners clothing and hard hats as the candlelight was passed from person to person throughout the crowd.
Howe asked the crowd to keep the miners families in their prayers.
Stollings said that when everything ends, it's still not over for the families.
"We need to have ongoing help and support for these families," Stollings said. "These folks need ongoing support. When they get everyone out, it still doesn't end for those families.
"We're a tough group of people here in southern West Virginia, but we need to keep praying and our hearts go out to the families."
Cooper said the news of the explosion was chilling to everyone in the coal mining industry because "we're all family."