February 25, 2003 at 11:27 PM CST - Updated June 21 at 8:37 AM
Friends and Family Mourn Two Young Lives By: Amy Jacquin
(Jackson, MO)--Friends and family openly grieve after a house fire kills two young people, who had been planning on a life together. The fire broke out at a home on Morgan St. in Jackson. Firefighters got the call just after midnight. When they arrived, they saw flames and smoke billowing from the basement.
The homeowners, Kenneth and Carol Koehler, made it out okay. But fire was still blocking their son and girlfriend in the basement. The Cape Girardeau County Coroner, Mike Hurst, confirms the two likely died from smoke inhalation, and were found in the bedroom area.
The fire marshal ruled this fire accidental. He's narrowed it down to an appliance, the appliance cord, or an extension cord. A computer was in the basement, in the area where the fire started. Many people in Jackson knew the two young people who died.
Gabriel Koehler was 20. Rachel Smith, 18.
Gabe graduated from Jackson High School last year, where the 5-foot 10-inch senior wearing number 28, played running back and linebacker for the Indians. He was also on the wrestling team.
"He was strong, and smart," says his cousin Tom Koehler. "He was always a good kid in high school."
Rachel ran track... and "couldn't wait till next year." She sang in the choir, and did very well in school. Rachel was the only child of Wade and Roxanne Smith, who recently moved to Overland Park, Kansas... so she moved in with her boyfriend's family to finish her senior year.
"I can't believe this happened," says Richie Knight. "A lot of people knew them, since he was big into sports, and involved in all sorts of high school activities."
Gabe and Rachel were engaged, and planned to go to college together in Kansas City.
Word of the fatal fire spread quickly throughout Jackson, and so did the disbelief. One car after another cruised by the Koehler home Tuesday. Many of them are filled with young friends of Gabriel and Rachel. They went to see how and where they died... and to remember their lives.
"I can't believe this has happened," says Richie, shaking his head. "I feel so sorry for the family."
Friends stare in disbelief at what's left of the Koehler home... Everywhere you look, signs of what used to be a happy family, now shrouded in grief.
"He had such potential, and so did she," says Tom. "It's a shame to see their futures go down in flames."
Two young people looking forward to *starting* their lives together, had them *ended*... together... instead.
Two funds have been established in the name "Kenneth Koehler Family Fund." The Jackson Volunteer Fire Department set up a fund at the Peoples Bank of Altenburg branch in Jackson, PO Box 550, Jackson MO 63755. And the American Legion set up a fun at any Bank of Missouri branch. The money from both funds will be pooled together to start a scholarship in both kids' names, as well as help the Koehler family start over.