by Heather Tomlinson
Francis McKinney last saw 60-year-old Linda Garland on Tuesday as Garland dropped off some shoe boxes filled with items at Eubank Baptist Church for charity. Their interaction was quick, as both women, long-time members of the church, were busy with activities and errands.
“She just dropped them off, threw up her hand and said ‘I’ve got to go,’” said McKinney. “She always loved Operation Christmas Child.”
Now, members of the northern Pulaski County church are in shock after learning that Garland and her husband, Everett Garland, 64, perished in a Wednesday night fire at their home.
Even more stunning is the revelation that the Garlands were victims of arson. According to published reports, their teenage granddaughter has been charged with two counts of murder.
“They were just good country people who worked hard, tried to raise their family,” said McKinney. “They were satisfied as long as their needs were met.”
The blaze was reported at the Garlands’ home, located on Joe McMullin Road off Ky. 328 in Lincoln County, just after 11 p.m. Wednesday according to Kentucky State Police Trooper Robert Purdy.
Firefighters believe the flames started in the rural home’s living room and spread to the attic.
Everett Garland was pronounced dead by Lincoln County Coroner Farris Marcum after his body was found in the burned double-wide trailer.
Linda Garland was transported to Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, where she was pronounced dead by Pulaski County Deputy Coroner Anthony Gossett.
Pulaski County Coroner Chuck Godbey said they initially believed Linda Garland died of smoke inhalation, but he said she also suffered from burns to her back.
Autopsies will be carried out on the bodies to determine cause of death.
“We should at least have an idea by tomorrow morning,” said Godbey.
Marcum reported to the Associated Press that the Garlands’ teenage granddaughter was in the home when the fire started, and she escaped and called 911.
The granddaughter was taken to a hospital and was later released, according to Marcum.
But the tragic situation took a twist early Thursday morning after KSP announced a juvenile had been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of arson in the case.
“We’ve got some pretty good ideas what happened,” said Purdy. “The fire was intentionally set ... the juvenile was in the home when the fire was set.”
Published reports suggest that the Garlands’ granddaughter was the juvenile charged in the case, but Purdy stated KSP is not identifying the juvenile.
Purdy also declined to give any possible motive behind the alleged arson.
“There was something that transpired prior to (the fire) that’s sensitive to the investigation,” Purdy told the Associated Press.
McKinney said news of the arrest made the situation even harder to accept to those who knew the Garlands.
“It’s sort of hard to wrap my head around it,” said McKinney.
The juvenile suspect is being held at the Adair County Juvenile Detention Facility.
News of the Garlands’ deaths spread quickly through the congregation of more than 200 people at Eubank Baptist Church, which is located on North U.S. 27 near the intersection of Ky. 70.
“Some of our deacons went down to the hospital last night,” said McKinney. “They called me about midnight and said they thought I would want to know ... of course, I did (want to know).”
Fellow church member Kenny Upchurch, who also serves as a Pulaski County Deputy, said he saw the Garlands nearly every Sunday.
“I just was in shock. I knew we had a bad fire, I just didn’t know until this morning where and who,” said Upchurch. “I shook hands and spoke to them every Sunday. They’re real good people.”
Church members estimated the Garlands’ granddaughter to be around 15 or 16 years old and said she attended church with them sometimes on Sunday mornings.
“They sat right across the aisle from me and my wife,” said Upchurch. “They always made a point to come speak to me.”
KSP Arson Investigator Pat Alford and a representative with the Kentucky State Fire Marshall’s Office were at the scene of the fire Thursday.
KSP Detective Rodney Wren is heading up the death investigation.
They were assisted by KSP troopers from the Richmond and London Posts, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, the Waynesburg Fire Department, the State Fire Marshall’s Office, and the Lincoln County Court Designated Worker.
The investigation into the fire is continuing.