Asheville mourns father, sons killed in I-285 plane crash



“Thanks for your prayers,” the marquee outside Little Pigs read Sunday, as this tight-knit community grappled with the incomprehensible: a father and two sons, gone in an instant.

The Asheville eatery, beloved to generations of barbecue enthusiasts, is owned by the Swicegoods, one branch of the extended family of Greg, Phillip and Christopher Byrd. The three men were killed Friday when their small plane went down on I-285 in DeKalb County. Also killed was Christopher's fiancee, Jackie Kulzer.

Just a few miles from Little Pigs, prayers were raised privately and in unison Sunday morning at Trinity Episcopal Church, the downtown Asheville church that was home to the families of Greg Byrd, 53, and his ex-wife, Hope Swicegood Byrd, the mother of Christopher, 27, and Phillip, 26.

“The parish has suffered an unimaginable tragedy,” said the woman who presented the list of those in special need of heavenly comfort, announcing that a memorial for the three men will take place Monday at 2 p.m.

The day’s sermon was drawn from the passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus exhorts his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.”

A visiting priest, the Rev. Ken Henry, delivered the sermon, beginning with a story about the impressionist painter Auguste Renoir. During the painter’s later years, Henry said, the pain of arthritis made painting an agony. Asked why he persevered despite his affliction, Renoir reportedly responded: “The pain passes. The beauty remains.”

Similarly, for Christians who follow Jesus’ commandment, Henry said, “the pain passes and the beauty of new life remains.”

Later in the service, as parishioners came forward to kneel and take communion, dozens of people paused to light candles. Others knelt at a “healing station” situated below the pulpit, where specially trained laypersons grasped their shoulders and bent heads close to offer a listening ear or words of comfort.

Greg Byrd and his sons were “lovely, lovely, lovely people and in God’s hands now,” said one of the volunteers, Judy Baldwin, after the service. She as well as church staff declined to say more.

As the parishioners drifted away into the brilliant May sunshine, many paused to huddle in little knots, sharing their disbelief and sadness. “So many heavy hearts,” said one woman softly, glancing about with a shake of her head.