PAHRUMP — For the second time in three months, Cindy Smiley sat in the front pew of the Pahrump Community Church to say goodbye to a cherished family member.
Last November, her husband, Richard, was mourned at this humble church in this dusty town 60 miles west of Las Vegas.
On Friday, Cindy was there for her daughter, Crystal Smiley, 24, who died Feb. 9 in a house fire that killed three young brothers she gave her life trying to save, according to her brother, Michael, who would deliver his sister’s eulogy.
And so a mother’s grief filled the chapel, where more than 100 mourners gathered on a cloudy February afternoon to remember the far too brief, too often unfair and ultimately heroic life of Crystal Smiley.
“She didn’t give up,” said Michael Smiley of his younger sister. “She was on the phone with dispatch, yelling at her friend to get the kids while she was trying to tell 911 where the house was she never gave up, even when there was a reason to.”
Crystal Smiley died while on the phone with Pahrump’s emergency dispatcher.
“Remember her for that,” said Michael Smiley. “Don’t give up.”
Like many young adults, Crystal enjoyed an active lifestyle. She liked bowling, playing softball and basketball, fishing, and “she very much looked for the good in everyone,” said Michael. “She was very accepting. Very giving.”
He said his sister had a happy childhood, enjoyed Saturday morning cartoons, loved her horse, liked to write poetry and draw. She especially liked to draw fairies.
A favorite memory occurred in 2009, when the family, all together for a vacation for the first time in nearly 10 years, body surfed off the California coast with a sea otter “not five feet away.”
“I’ve heard a lot about regrets the past few days,” Michael said. “Regrets about not taking her out, regrets about last words said in anger.”
He then shared one of his own:
“I should have taken her home at Christmas, like she asked,” said Michael, his voice cracking; his grief coming in waves.
Michael did not offer specifics, but he indicated his sister had a rougher life than she deserved. Still, she always smiled —- and if she had any regrets she kept them a secret.
The deadly fire that took four lives Feb. 9 remains under investigation, but preliminary findings indicate one of the boys might have accidentally ignited the blaze.
Sharon Broadhead, the mother of Brandon Smith, 5; Zach Broadhead, 4; and Elliot Broadhead, 18 months, was arrested Feb. 12 on numerous counts involving child neglect and involuntary manslaughter.
She was the only survivor, a fact a friend said is “tearing her apart.”
A Pahrump judge released Broadhead from jail on Monday and she attended the boys’ funeral Wednesday.
On Friday, a long line of cars slowly followed the hearse carrying Crystal Smiley to Pahrump’s Grandview Cemetery for a graveside service. A mother’s grief hovered in the air.
Contact Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@reviewjournal. com or 702-224-5512.