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'An overwhelming response': Community holds candlelight vigil for children killed in fire

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A memorial is set up for Alex, Melody and Spencer Tufte, three siblings who died last weekend in a mobile home fire in Carrington, N.D. A prayer vigil was held Thursday night. John M. Steiner / The Sun2 / 5
An online fundraiser on gofundme.com identified the three people killed in a fire in Carrington, N.D., on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, as the three children of Dawn & Brandon Tufte. Special to Forum News Service3 / 5
Glass ornaments are lit up a memorial site for Alex, Melody and Spencer Tufte, who died last weekend in a mobile home fire in Carrington, N.D. John M. Steiner / The Sun4 / 5
Approximately 100 people gather Thursday evening for a candlelight prayer vigil at a memorial set up for Alex, Melody and Spencer Tufte, siblings who died last weekend in a mobile home fire in Carrington, N.D. John M. Steiner / The Sun5 / 5

CARRINGTON, N.D.—About 100 people gathered for a candlelight vigil Thursday evening at the site of a mobile home fire in Carrington that killed three children and injured their father last weekend.

Alex, 11, Melody, 8, and Spencer, 7, Tufte were killed in the fire that also destroyed the family's mobile home Saturday, Feb. 25. Their father, Brandon Tufte, 32, was taken to a Twin Cities burn unit for his injuries, and their mother, Dawn Tufte, 31, and roommate Garrett Phillips, 29, were treated and released.

The vigil began and ended with a prayer, and people gathered sang "Amazing Grace," "Jesus Loves Me" and "Lord I Lift Your Name on High," a favorite song of the Tufte children, requested by their mother.

Chelee Finch, a family friend, said she and other mutual friends, Amber Kruse and Tonia Erickson, thought a vigil would be a way to bring the community together to show spiritual support for the family and for Carrington. Dawn Tufte was receptive to the idea and specifically requested that it be a candlelight vigil at the site of the fire, she said.

"This is a small town and we all know each other," Finch said. "There has been an overwhelming response."

The Rev. Loren Franchuk of Calvary Baptist Church led the prayer service at the vigil. He said the tragedy affects the entire community.

"I see it as a time of remembering these young lives and praying for the family and just supporting everybody who is feeling the pain of the loss," Franchuk said.

The fire was reported at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, and Carrington and New Rockford firefighters fought the blaze, which started in the front bedroom, said Carrington Fire Chief Ken Wangen.

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the state fire marshal.

Brandon Tufte was taken to CHI St. Alexius Health Carrington Medical Center then airlifted Saturday to the burn center at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minn. According to a journal entry on a CaringBridge page by Dawn, Brandon "suffered some burns to his face, back, shoulders and also inhaled a lot of smoke."

Brandon Tufte is recovering from his injuries, and will be able to go home once he's off oxygen, Dawn wrote on the CaringBridge page Wednesday.

Erickson said when she found out about the fire on Saturday, she had to do something, so she asked Dawn if she could start a drive for clothes and other items, and later asked if she could look for a place for them to live.

Erickson located a home for the Tuftes to rent in Carrington on Wednesday, and by Thursday volunteers had it cleaned out and painted. Three electricians rewired the home, and parents belonging to Spencer's wrestling club sorted out the many donated items and put them away in the home, Finch said.

"The way the community has come together is just unbelievable," Finch said.

The GoFundMe page for the family has raised almost $68,000 for funeral expenses and other needs. The Tufte Family Benefit at Gate City Bank has surpassed $25,000, Finch said. People from all over the state have been generous, Erickson said.

"There are really no words of how the community has come together," Erickson said. "The community is wrapping its arms around the Tuftes. It doesn't matter if they knew them or not, everyone is doing something."

There are still things that the family will need, and the best way to help is to visit the Facebook page where needed items are posted, she said. There are donation boxes in Carrington at Gate City Bank, Christy's Closet and Harley's Place Restaurant.

Evans Funeral Home lists the visitation for the Tufte children at Trinity Lutheran Church in Carrington from noon to 7 p.m. with a prayer service at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday.

The funeral service for the children will be held on Wednesday, March 8, at 3 p.m. in the Carrington High School gymnasium.

Sun reporter Tom LaVenture contributed to this report.

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