UNITY, Maine — About 75 community members gathered Saturday evening to eat together and raise money to add a garden plot to Triplet Park, where produce for the local food pantry will be grown.
But they also came to the event at the Unity Community Center to remember and mourn the fire that claimed the life of three 6-year-old brothers a decade ago.
“There aren’t words,” said Melissa Bastien of Unity, who lived next to triplets Joshua, Marcus and Brydon White and their family. “Our community was hurting so.”
She said she’ll never forget the fire that raged through the boys’ home on Wood Lane on Jan. 12, 2000. The fire claimed another life, too, as Waldo County Sheriff and Unity Volunteer Fire Department member Robert Jones suffered a fatal heart attack.
The boys’ 2-year-old sister Elizabeth and mother Carmen Moshier, then Carmen Freyer, were able to escape the blaze.
“The fire made all these noises, like it was eating the building,” said Bastien. A pall of smoke and sadness blanketed the small Waldo County community for a long time afterward, she said. “You’re so helpless.”
The town has worked hard to move beyond that sense of helplessness. The autumn after the fire, Triplet Park began to take shape on the land just off School Street near the village center where the house had stood.
“Through the generosity and love of the family, the land was gifted to the park,” said Tess Fairbanks Woods, executive director of the nonprofit Unity Barn Raisers. “Really, it was just so brave of them all to let the community be part of the healing process.”
Over the years, volunteers have made a recreational trail there with a boardwalk, wildflower gardens and spots for remembrance, Woods said. Unity College students created an outdoor learning area there and others have grown “tunnels” of cucumbers and interactive food “teepees,” she said. Local children from the nearby Head Start and the elementary school have used Triplet Park extensively for education and recreation.
Bastien, who gardens in the park, said she created a wildflower house with Brydon White in mind.
“It’s wonderful to have the kids running around and laughing again,” she said.
Melissa White Pillsbury of Thorndike, aunt of the triplets, said the family appreciates that the Unity Barn Raisers have such “dedicated volunteers.”
“It’s great to have the community support the park and continue to make it a great educational, recreational and now an agricultural resource,” she said after the dinner.
Small signs on the tables read “Triplet Park — From tragedy to treasure.”
Longtime resident Barry Woods said the gathering was not a celebration but a remembrance.
“Something good is coming out of something very, very bad,” he said. “To have something so positive come out of this is a tribute to the family and to the community.”