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Two little girls lying in a single casket holding hands is an image Ron Livingood will never forget.
Livingood, superintendent of Grant County Schools, along with other administrative staff and nearly all of the teachers at Grant County Middle School, traveled to Winchester for the funeral of Rachel and Jacquline Chesnut, children of Shelly Chesnut.
Chesnut has been a sixth grade science teacher for the last eight years at GCMS.
“It is the saddest thing I’ve ever witnessed,” Livingood said. “There were two beautiful, angelic, little girls in the same casket holding hands. It will indelibly be etched in my mind.”
The family attended Boyd United Methodist Church and last Sunday before her tragic death, Jacqueline announced she was going to heaven.
Keith Mitchell, pastor at Boyd UMC, recounted that story during a prayer vigil, four days after the fire.
Mitchell described both girls as being full of energy and quick to show off a new dress.
He said they “are surely showing off their heavenly gowns now.”
Rachel, 4, and Jacqueline, 5, died as the results of injuries they received in a fire at their Cynthiana home on Feb. 15.
Jacqueline was pronounced dead later that day, while Rachel died the next day.
Terry Chesnut, Shelly’s husband, remains in critical condition at the University of Kentucky Medical Center where he was flown by helicopter.
Albert Chesnut, the couple’s 20-year-old son, said his father remains sedated. Terry suffered third-degree burns.
His lungs were also severely damaged in the fire.
Visitation and funeral services were held Feb. 20. Because of the President’s Day holiday, Grant County schools were not in session, which allowed employees to attend the services.
The sisters were buried in the Clarmont Memorial Garden in Clark County.
Livingood said the outpouring from the community during this tragedy has been amazing.
“The community has responded to the many needs of this family,” Livingood said. “We’re trying to keep a count of all that has been donated. Money has come from church groups, organizations and individuals. It’s hard to keep it all straight.”
The GCMS PTT (parent/teacher organization) donated almost $4,000 to cover the funeral expenses. Livingood said about $30,000 had been raised.
Fellow teachers at GCMS and in the district have donated sick time to Shelly so that she can be off the remainder of the school year and still get paid.
“I’m not surprised by the outpouring of the community,” said Livingood. “Knowing people in this community and their hearts, it’s not surprising at all. It’s simply a reflection of the people we have in this community.”
The fire broke out around noon on Feb. 15. No cause has been determined and it remains under investigation by Kentucky State Police Detective Anthony Gaston and Curtis Combs, the KSP arson investigator.
A candlelight vigil was held Feb. 19 at the Harrison County Courthouse.
The family also has four other children living at home. Their ages range from 7 to 20 years old. All of their clothing and household belongings were destroyed in the fire.
The couple also has an older daughter who is married.
The Grant County School District is collecting money and clothing for the family.
The district will write one check to the family. Anyone from the community wishing to donate, should make checks payable to the Grant County Board of Education (indicate Chesnut Family on the memo line) and can be dropped off at the board office at 820 Arnie Risen Blvd. in Williamstown. Gas and retail store cards will also be collected.
Donations can also be made directly to Forcht Bank.
Friends and neighbors in Harrison County have also been touched by the deaths and fire and have been raising money and collecting clothes for the family. A fund has also been set up at Harrison Deposit Bank in Cynthiana.
Clothing sizes needed:
• 7-year-old girl – sizes 7T; shoe – 2
• 15-year-old girl – medium top, pants – 4 and shoe – 10
• 17-year-old girl – medium top; pants – 6 and shoe – 9
• 19 year-old-girl – small top; pants -2 and shoe – 9
• 20-year-old male – large shirt/ pants – 30/32 and shoe – 11
• mother – large top; pants – 7 long and shoe – 9 ½
• father – 2 XL shirt; pants – 38/32 and shoe – 11 ½