By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Families are overwhelmed at community's response
03.11 ecis 1
With some help from Debbie Oglesby, Hunter Purnell, age 2, paints on his hand and her hand as his mother Jenny watches. Jenny’s husband and Hunter’s father Justin was injured in the Feb. 7 Imperial Sugar refinery explosion and is in critical condition at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Morgan Seckinger and Jenny Purnell greeted well-wishers and media seeking interviews warmly on an often chilly Saturday.

The 9-year-old daughter of Paul Seckinger was telling folks how to buy the Jibbitz charms designed with the Dixie Crystals logo to wear. Meanwhile, her father, one of three Effingham County residents badly hurt in the Feb. 7 Imperial Sugar refinery explosion, continues a long fight for recovery from his injuries.

Seckinger, Justin Purnell and Troy Bacon are at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta. It is expected they will be there for many weeks and months.

Hundreds of people attended Saturday’s Effingham County Imperial Sugar refinery explosion victims fundraiser in Springfield, with the proceeds going to help the victims and their families.

“In a little town like this, you always think that someone will be there to help,” Purnell said. “But when the time comes, it’s like, ‘Wow!’”

For the last month, Purnell has spent most of her days in Augusta, getting to see her husband a few times a day.

“It’s awful. It’s horrible,” Purnell said. “But you learn to live with it. You kind of learn to deal with it.”

The Purnells have a 2-year-old son, Hunter. He is being cared for by friends, the Oglesbys, at their church, Meldrim United Methodist, since Jenny is in Augusta most of the time.

Purnell gets to go back to see her husband for 30 minutes between 9 and 9:30 each morning. There’s another 30-minute visitation period from noon to 12:30 p.m. and another half-hour from 5-5:30 p.m. In between those visits, she tries to get something to eat and returns to the hotel room.

At 8:30 each night, the family members get to spend an hour with their loved ones.

The families have been staying in hotel rooms for the last month in Augusta, but they were scheduled to move into apartments Monday — all paid for by people in Augusta.

“People you don’t even know, bringing you food, prayers, everything,” Purnell said. “We’re not even from there. They don’t know you, but they come up and say, ‘I’m praying for you.’”

Justin Purnell had another surgery on Saturday as doctors worked on his arms and legs. He suffered burns on more than half his body.

“He’s critical but stable,” she said. “He’s very strong.”

Justin called Jenny twice in the moments after the explosion, including telling her to call 911 and tell them what happened.

“I don’t know how he did it,” she said, noting the extent of his injuries at the time, “but he did it.”

Still, his recovery will be lengthy. “It’s a day-to-day thing,” Jenny Purnell said.

Morgan hasn’t been to Augusta to see her father — her grandparents are there to be with him. She records messages for him and goes over what transpired in their favorite TV program.

“I’ve been saying a bunch of stuff to him,” she said. “He likes to watch ‘SpongeBob Squarepants,’ so I’ve been talking about SpongeBob with him.”

Seckinger, a fourth-grader at Ebenezer Elementary School, also handled her requests from the TV stations with aplomb, much to her teacher’s delight.

“She did so well,” said Stacie Ortiz, Morgan’s teacher at Ebenezer. “I’m proud of her.”

“I tried to think of something we could do. We were drawing posters for her dad one day in class,” Ortiz said.

That’s when inspiration struck her, and she e-mailed Imperial Sugar headquarters about the Dixie Crystals logo.

Imperial Sugar bought Dixie Crystals about 10 years ago and holds their rights, and the company agreed to allow Ortiz and Seckinger to approach Jibbitz with the idea of the charms with the Dixie Crystals logo.

“I was so excited,” Ortiz said.

The charms, about three to four weeks away from delivery, will sell for $5 each. Seckinger will be getting a shipment of 1,000 charms — designed to wear on the popular Crocs shoes — to sell to raise money for the effort. They are called “Morgan’s Dixie Wish.”

“The kids need to know how important this is,” she said, “if it is something as small as a charm on a foot, something to look at every day.”

Purnell said she was thankful for the turnout and the way people have embraced the families over the last few weeks.

“It was very special,” Seckinger said of Saturday’s event.