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A father finds solace in cyber memorials -- so do others

Friday, November 12, 1999

By Johnna A. Pro, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When Brian Kornegay's daughter, Heather, died in March of an asthma attack, he found comfort in front of the computer screen.

In his grief, Kornegay, a captain in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, created a Web page to honor his 20-year-old daughter. On it he posted a letter to her, pictures and poetry.

Since then, Heather's Web site has inspired Kornegay to create a second site, www.virtual-condolences.com, on which friends, acquaintances and even strangers from around the world can offer condolences to the families of those who've died, particularly firefighters.

The latest name to be added to the site is that of Michael Sims, 38, the Tarentum firefighter who died last week of injuries he suffered when he fell from a firetruck while responding to an alarm.

"I don't know Michael Sims, but [his link on the site] is a place for the community to go and place their condolences," said Kornegay, who learned of Sims' death through a friend in Western Pennsylvania.

As with the others whose names are listed on the main Web page, Kornegay included a brief description of how Sims died, his length of service with the Highland Hose Volunteer Fire Co. and the names of his survivors.

The Sims page where comments can be posted features two flickering candles and the headline: "Condolences and Reflections for Michael Sims, Highland Hose Company, Tarentum, Pa. Another hero joins the ranks of the Angels."

Although Sims' name only was added Sunday, a few people have already posted messages. For example, someone in Redwood Valley, Calif., wrote:

"It takes a special kind of person to be a firefighter ... a special kind of hero. I am proud, not only of my loved ones [who] are firefighters, but also I am proud of all the firefighters across our country. My deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Michael."

Kornegay got the idea to create a Web site for Heather from another site called virtual-memorials.com, which, as the name implies, features Internet memorials composed of pictures, biographies, family histories and more about people who've died.

After launching Heather's site, Kornegay found that people who visited it often took the time to post messages of sympathy and support for him and his family. In their grief, the Kornegays were touched and took strength from the messages.

Kornegay wanted other families who have lost loved ones to find similar comfort.

Two months later, when the shootings occurred at Columbine High School, Kornegay created the condolences site so the nation and the world could add messages for the people of Littleton, Colo., and about 500 did.

After that, the idea just mushroomed.

Thus far, Kornegay has created links on the condolences Web site for the families of nearly 20 people.

Because he's still a novice computer buff, and creating the links is time-consuming, Kornegay usually has only four on the site at any given time.

In addition to Sims, the site currently has information about firefighters Jerry Wayne Ramey, 18, of Greenland, Ark., and Karen Savage, 44, of Junction City, Calif., both of whom died recently in the line of duty, and about Warren Uboldi, 14, of Kenwood, Calif., the son of a firefighter.

"It's not just for firefighters, but it is aimed in that direction," Kornegay said.

The links may stay a few days or a few weeks, allowing people to read the postings and add their own thoughts.

Kornegay always adds the first posting. Others get added by people who already know of the site and look regularly for new postings.

In addition, Kornegay does his best to alert people about the site through electronic mail, phone calls to fire departments and media interviews.

Once the messages taper off, he prints the condolences on stock paper and forwards them to the family as a keepsake.

"I'm winging it. I'm a fire captain," said Kornegay. "I had just started practicing Web pages when my daughter died. Now it's given me a purpose."

Kornegay provides the service free, thanks in part to Pacific Internet, which hosts Heather's site at no charge.

"They don't charge me anything. They didn't know Heather, but they are hosting Heather's Web site and virtual-condolences out of the kindness of their hearts," he said.

The return for Kornegay and his family is that people who link to the virtual-condolences site are first greeted by a message telling them that it was created in Heather's memory. Visitors to the site are then invited to visit her Web page, learn about her life and, if they wish, sign her guest book.

"It's my way to share my daughter with the world," said Kornegay. "I get some very nice and positive e-mails."


Brian Kornegay's e-mail is oneputt@pacific.net. To reach Heather's Web site or to post condolences to the families who have lost loved ones, including the Sims family, go to www.virtual-condolences.com.



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