In Nov. 13-19 IssueBy Kim GrahamTimes Journal Reporter
As rain fell and clouds loomed heavy in the sky, mourners arrived for the funeral of Russell County High School Junior Luke Burton last Friday. A steady stream of friends and family flowed into the dimly lit Russell County High School gym passing tokens of love in memory of Luke on their way to offer support to his family.
They continued to arrive even after the service began, filling one side of the gym to standing room only.
"I've heard some people say about 1,500 people came to the funeral," said Luke's mother Erica Burton. "But I don't know exactly how many came."
The service included eulogies from pastors, football coaches, friends and family with a central theme of a brief life well lived with many friends and loved ones.
"Luke wasn't just an athlete, he enjoyed music and cars," said Royce Burton, Luke's father. "Luke had a lot of friends. He was a well rounded friend to a lot of people and had friends from all sorts of different kids."
He was a member of the Millerfield Brethren in Christ , the Russell County Laker football team, and Another Level car club.
"Luke had many families: his church family, his football family and Another Level family," said Luke's best friend, Codey Bell. "We loved him and he loved us."
Youth minister, Rev. Jason Walters said Luke was an active member of his youth group participating in skits and exhibiting leadership qualities among his peers.
Those same qualities were evident in the way he conducted himself at school.
"Luke was an amazing person," said Candi O'Dell, Luke's 8th grade English teacher. "He was a good Christian young man and he was a great example to the students."
Luke's mischievous grin is remembered fondly by many of those who knew him.
Coach Bill Sharp said, "Luke's smile was a smile that could melt your heart."
"He had one of those smiles that was contagious," said O'Dell.
Several of Luke's family and friends expressed their sympathy and love through gifts from the heart.
Upon learning of Luke's wreck, O'Dell says she didn't go to the hospital since she knew there were hundreds of visitors already there but she had to do something.
She said she chose to cope with her feelings and show her love for Luke and his family through her art work by painting a still life of his Russell County Laker football jersey, a helmet and a football. An inscription on the painting says, "God touched him and he slept."
"We just can't believe the ways they've expressed their love," said Erica Burton. "It's just awesome what people have done for us."
From the moment of Luke's wreck, the Burton's have stood strong in their faith in God and hope to see something good come of this tragedy.
"Royce and Erica have been so inspirational through all of this," said Candi O'Dell.
The family urges young drivers to slow down and be careful on the road.
"We want (our community's teenagers) to be safe. They are young drivers and anything can happen," said Erica Burton. "We've said over and over again, we want these kids to be ready to go. Walk close with the Lord and commit themselves to Him."
"We want to thank Russell and the surrounding counties for their support," said Erica Burton. "We could never repay them for what they have done for us."
"We'll never be able to thank everybody enough," said Royce Burton. "I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. It says a lot about this community, the way they've supported us and it says a lot about Luke that he touched so many lives."