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'She was the joy of our world'

April 10, 2001

'She was the joy of our world'



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


GERRARDSTOWN, W.Va. - In her 19 months of life, Autumn Rae Kirby brought happiness and joy to those who knew her, her parents said Tuesday, two days after their daughter died after falling into the family pool.

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"She was the joy of our world," said Roger Kirby, 44, at the family home on Abiding Way outside Gerrardstown. "Everybody adored her. She was a joy to be around. She loved being around people. She's probably got more grandmothers than anyone else in Berkeley County. She'd come into a room - you'd just want to pick her up. "

"If you had a very bad feeling, all you'd have to do is look at her and your heart would just melt," said Michelle Kirby, 31.

The youngster would walk into a room, pull up her shirt and ask for "belly bows," her parents said. She meant "blows" but couldn't pronounce the "l." Willing adults would gladly blow on her stomach "and she would just laugh and laugh," her mother said.

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She loved "Sesame Street," especially Elmo, and "Blues Clues."

Autumn was born Aug. 24, 1999, the same day as her brothers Thomas and Seth. She had a 6-year-old sister, Skylar, and a 21-year-old sister, Heather Hoak of Martinsburg, W.Va.

The triplets were very close, and the two young boys don't seem to know what to do without their sister to play with, their parents said.

"She loved to play with her brothers," said Michelle Kirby. "She used to love to sit on them."

"They were a team," said Roger Kirby, who is general manager of the Inwood Food Lion. "They (Thomas and Seth) are wandering around trying to find their sister, even today. They go to every room looking for her."

"She was the first to walk, the first to talk," her father said. A bright child, "you'd tell her to go do something and she'd do it." The accident occurred when Autumn apparently wandered out onto the two-level deck at the back of the house. The upper level is off the kitchen and is divided by a padlocked fence from the lower level. The edge of the lower level met the top of a 5-foot-deep swimming pool.

"We had everything built for regulation," Roger Kirby said of the safety considerations for the pool.

Autumn apparently slipped through the narrow space between the posts in the fence separating the two levels, got over by the pool and fell in, her father said.

"She was so small, she just slipped through" the spaces in the fence, Roger Kirby said.

Skylar alerted him to Autumn's absence.

"My first reaction was I jumped in the pool," he said. "I couldn't find her. I ran into the basement and then into the yard. Then I jumped back into the pool and found her with my feet."

Skylar called 911, and Roger tried to talk to a dispatcher while administering CPR.

Despite his efforts, that of a neighbor who is a paramedic and rescue and hospital personnel, Autumn was pronounced dead at Winchester (Va.) Medical Center at 7:42 p.m. Sunday.

Michelle Kirby, who works as a patient care technician in the nursery at Winchester Medical Center, was at the hospital when notified of the accident, but thought Autumn had been taken to City Hospital in Martinsburg. She drove to Martinsburg, then back to Winchester.

"That was the longest hour of my life," she said.

Autumn and her two brothers were "miracle babies," born at 32 1/2 weeks instead of 36 weeks, and after it was thought Michelle couldn't have any more children, her parents said.

They said their faith in God is strong and their church family has just been wonderful.

"This is such a great job, being a dad," Roger Kirby said. "My wife and my family, they're everything."

Because of the accident, the pool is already gone and will never be replaced, he said. A small memorial garden and two fruit trees will be planted in Autumn's memory.

"We don't want her brothers to ever forget her," Michelle Kirby said.

They are grateful for the 19 months they had Autumn, but said their hearts tell them they should have had more time with her.

"We know for sure God has got her right now," Michelle Kirby said.

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