CHARLESTON — They ranged in age from 20 to 61. Some had been miners only a few months, others for 34 years.
Their passions ranged from karate, farming, swimming, hunting, basketball and the beach. Collectively they loved family and working at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Creek mine.
The 29 killed in the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since 1970 leave behind sons and daughters, parents, grandchildren and a network of friends in their small, close-knit communities in southern West Virginia.
Not all the dead have been identified. These are the stories of those who have been named so far, either by mine owner Massey Energy Co., the medical examiner or family members.
Kenny Chapman was a roof bolter in the mines. His second job, it seemed, was making others laugh.
He’d have stories to tell about his hunting and four-wheeling excursions or his fishing trips to Indian Mills, Plum Orchard Lake or Burnsville Lake.
The 53-year-old Fairdale resident’s specialty was practical jokes.
“He always would be like he couldn’t hear you and he would come up and (grab) people or tell jokes that would always get a laugh,” said a nephew, Mike Chapman. “He was somebody that always had a good time.”
Chapman has a 13-year-old son, Mikey, with his wife and three children from a previous marriage.
“He was really close with his family and his brothers,” Mike Chapman said.
William “Bob” Griffith came from a family of miners, went into the mines as a young man with his father and worked there like his brothers.
“He learned from the best,” said Griffith’s brother, Mike, who explained how the trade was a family tradition.
William Griffith lived in Glen Rogers with his wife, Marlene, and raised a son and daughter, said James Griffith, another of the late miner’s brothers. When he wasn’t working, Griffith and his wife were fixing up their 1967 Camaro.
His nephew, Jason Griffith, remembered his uncle’s smile.
He was “always laughing, carrying on, joking,” Jason said.
Rick Lane, an avid outdoorsman, was content tending to his horses and cattle on a 25-acre farm in Cool Ridge.
Missy Schoolcraft, Lane’s cousin, said Lane always fed everyone else’s horses in the winter. And when she had a horse that was lame, Lane would take care of it on his farm.
“He had a heart of gold,” said Schoolcraft, whose husband was best friends with him for more than two decades. “He gave us so much.”
The 45-year-old Lane, a longwall production foreman, had been with parent company Massey for about four years and worked at the Upper Big Creek mine for about a year. He and his wife, Kim, have a 23-year-old son and a 9-month-old grandson.
Ricky Workman had an affection for wheels.
One of the first images on his MySpace page is a motorcycle. The 50-year-old Colcord resident loved his Harley Davidson and in the summer drove miniature race cars, said his niece, Tammy Cruz of Cleveland.
Workman’s MySpace page also listed watching dirt track races, fishing, hunting and spending time with family as his favorite activities. He and his wife, Annette, have three daughters and seven grandchildren.