SPANAWAY, Wash. - Hundreds of people gathered at Bethel High School today to honor the Ballard sisters, killed one week ago in a house fire in Graham, Wash.
Fire investigators are still waiting for test results to come back to find out what started the blaze, which killed 10-year-old Michaela, 11-year-old Emily and 13-year-old Katelyn Ballard.
"They were my life," said Judy Mitchell-Ballard, their mother. "And how do you go on after your life is gone?"
The girls' father today said he was amazed to discover how greatly his daughters' lives impacted the community.
"You can never truly show and express how much you love someone until they're gone," Lenny Ballard said. "You tell them and you tell them that you love them."
Firefighters discovered Lenny Ballard last week trying to rescue the girls.
"Katy was just becoming a very beautiful woman," he said. "Emmy had the cutest giggle and her whole face would light up when she smiled."
He refused to talk bout the accidental fire that stole his daughters' lives
The community has rallied around the girls' family. Last week about 100 of their mother's co-workers at the Bethel School District gathered outside the burned house to join her in grief.
Mitchell-Ballard believes there was a greater purpose for her daughters' death. She hopes their story will prompt parents to appreciate their children more and to talk with them about the best ways to survive a fire.
That is especially important to her now that investigators have concluded the girls were aware, at least for a short time, that the house was on fire.
"We were always taught to crawl," Judy Mitchell-Ballard said. "It's not the case. You need to slither. The amount of air that you have in a fire like this is minute. You need to slither."
Despite their apparent efforts to escape the flames and fumes, the deputy fire chief says he's certain the girls did not suffer.
Now friends and neighbors are trying to focus not on how the girls died, but on what kind of people they were.
"Funny," said Patty Casillas. "Always had a funny story to tell and share."
You can make donations to the "Ballard Family Fund" at any Washington Mutual branch.