OCEAN ISLE BEACH -- It has been nearly seven months since a massive house fire killed seven college students vacationing in Ocean Isle Beach. Six others escaped the fire. Family and friends of the vicitms, along with town officials, gathered Friday to honor those who lost their lives. A private ceremony was held at the Ocean Isle Beach Fire Department, at which people spoke, prayed, and shared memories of the victims. Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith said, "We remembered those that are no longer with us. We recognized those that were still with us." After the ceremony, the group moved outside to unveil a new memorial. A monument includes the seven victims' names, the date of the fire: Oct. 28, 2007, and a quote: "Friends Together Forever." A steel cross, made by a local welder, sits next to the monument. The man who made the cross placed it at the site of the fire soon after it happened, and town leaders have been waiting to find an appropriate place to put it. Both the cross and monument were donated to the memorial site. Genie Lee's son, William Rhea, died in the fire. Her other son, Andrew Rhea, escaped. She traveld from Florence, SC for the ceremony. She said, "It was very difficult to come, but I'm very glad I did and I'm very appreciative to the people of Ocean Isle for having this." Rick Wylie's son, Tripp, survived the fire by jumping out of a third-floor window. "It was important to us, my wife and I, to show our appreciation to the folks here at Ocean Isle, not just for the memorial, but for the efforts they put forth on the day of the fire," said Wylie. The memorial is at the base of the bridge going into Ocean Isle Beach. Mayor Smith said, "It's peaceful, among the trees, it's tranquil, we hope that it will remind everybody that these are friends together forever." The students who died in the Oct. 28 fire were Travis Cale, Cassidy Pendley, Justin Anderson, Lauren Mahon, William Rhea, Emily Yelton, and Allison Walden.
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