3:55 p.m.: President Obama is speaking, first thanking the community.
“I cannot match the power of the voices you just heard on that video, and no words adequately describe the courage that was displayed on that deadly night. What I can do is offer the support and the love and prayers of the nation,” Obama said.
“Even amidst such sorrow and such pain, we recogize God’s abundance,” Obama said of the aftermath of both the West explosion and Boston Marathon bombings.
“We may not all live here in Texas, but we’re neighbors, too. We are Americans, too. And we stand with you and will not forget, and we’ll be there even after the cameras leave and after the attention turns elsewhere,” Obama said. “Your country will remain ever ready to help you recover and rebuild and reclaim your community.”
Notes that until last week, not many outside Texas had heard of West, “and I suppose that’s how the people of West like it.”
Obama tells people of the praises George W. and Laura Bush sang of West.
“The call went out to volunteers ... it went out to folks who were tough enough and selfless enough to put in a full day’s work and still be ready for more. And together, you answered the call,” Obama said.
“About 20 muinutes after the call went out, the earth shook and the sky went dark, and West was changed forever.”
Obama offers thoughts to those who lost family, friends, homes, etc., in the blast and offers praise to the many who responded in the hours and days following the tragedy.
“That’s the thing about this tragedy, this small town’s border is bigger now,” he said.
“What makes West special isn’t going to go away. Instead of changing who you are, this tragedy” has revealed the character of the town, Obama said.
Quoting a West pastor from Sunday, Obama said, “What happened on Wednesday is awful, but God is bigger.”
The president continued: “America needs towns like West. That’s what makes America great, is towns like West.”
Obama points to the abundance of love and support for West, saying that all across the country people are praying for and thinking of the town.
“May God bless West... and may He continue to bless the United States of America,” Obama said.
3:50 p.m.: U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is now at the mic, remembering the men who “immediately ran toward the danger... looking for a way that they might help” when the fire call at the fertilizer plant went out.
“How does one find such love to be willing to lay down their life, so that others might live,” Cornyn said.
He is now introducing President Barack Obama.
3:20 p.m.: Baylor President Ken Starr is now speaking. Starr quoted Robert Frost, saying “good fences make good neighbors.” But, Starr continued, “Today, there are no fences... there are no fences because we are all together as neighbors. We are standing together, figuratively, arm-in-arm.”
He said today is a time to treasure and remember those killed.
“Here at Baylor, we know and love the community of West,” Starr added, noting the popular Czech tourist stops in the small northern McLennan County town of 2,800.
He read a statement from former President George W. Bush, expressing sympathy for those affected by the tragedy, offering thoughts and prayers.
3:00 p.m.: Presentations are being given to commemorate the first responders killed by the West Fertilizer Co. explosion. They include emotional stories from family and friends about the firefighters, along with messages of love.
2:52 p.m.: Gov. Rick Perry is speaking. “To a person, our first responders know they’re placing themselves in danger ... first responders know there’s no such thing as a routine emergency.”
Speaking of the West first responders, Perry said, “Each of the men who lost their lives had stories... but the thread that bound them together was their sense of community... These were volunteers. Ordinary individuals blessed with extraordinary courage.”
Perry commended the people of West, whose town was “so profoundly imacted.” He said the spirit of those who died lives on and asked people to let their deeds serve as inspiration.
“We will never forget what happened here, nor forget the sacrifices of those who first responded,” Perry concluded.
2:47 p.m.: Bill Gardner, first vice president of the State Firemen and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas, has taken the stage.
“The reasons (for becoming a firefighter) vary, but the commitment is the same,” he said.
Later, Gardner added: “Our brothers showed their commitment ... now it’s our turn to remember them.”
Closed by telling families of firefighters that the community and firefighters will always support them.
2:25 p.m.: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have arrived at the Ferrell Center and taken the stage.
1:52 p.m.: Gov. Rick Perry, Baylor President Ken Starr and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn have stepped on stage. All three will speak at the memorial service. Also, President Barack Obama lifted off from Love Field in Dallas in a helicopter at 1:17 p.m. and should arrive at the Ferrell Center shortly.
1:40 p.m.: Officials closed the doors of the Ferrell Center at 1:25 p.m. with the building at capacity — 9,300 seats, with room for a stage. Baylor will broadcast the ceremony at the neighboring tennis, baseball and softball fields for those unable to get into the Ferrell Center. The university will also broadcast on campus at the Bill Daniel Student Center, the Student Life Center and Waco Hall, according to Baylor officials.
12:15 p.m.: Several West High School students are inside the Ferrell Center for the memorial service.
“We felt it was only right to be here and support the firefighters who died,” said Erran Mays, a senior, who is friends with the son of Kenneth “Luckey” Harris, a Dallas fire captain and West Volunteer firefighter who died in the blast.
Charmy Johnson came from Fort Worth for the service. “That’s somebody’s child, or father or uncle or grandfather who died.”
11 a.m.: Parking lots at the Ferrell Center are closed. The public can still park at Floyd Casey Stadium on North Valley Mills Drive and catch shuttle buses to the memorial service. The processional involving hundreds of emergency responders from around the company is preparing to start.
10:30 a.m.: Thousands of people already have lined up near Baylor University’s Ferrell Center for the 2 p.m. memorial service.
President Obama will speak at the event after attending the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas this morning.
Baylor freshman Ben Kirk said many professors canceled classes so students could attend the ceremony.
West resident Krystal Wachsman said of the crowd waiting for the memorial service: “It’s sad, but at the same time it feels good because it’s like we have a lot of support from all over.”