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Mine Rescuer's Death Unites Those Who Loved Him

"He was scared, but the way he explained it to me is. 'You'd want someone to go after me. I owe it to these men. I love them, and I love what I do,' " said Kristin Kimber, 30.

She and Shumway stood outside the Castleview Hospital, side by side, both ash blondes with their streaked locks pulled up away from oval faces framed by wraparound sunglasses. Until the original collapse 11 days ago, they had not been on speaking terms.

"You know how that goes," Kimber said. But the drama in Huntington, 21 miles down the road, had forced the question of priorities. When his old work crew was trapped, Brandon Kimber had called Kristin to say, "Life is short." If anything every happened to him, he wanted Bryton, 5, and twins Payton and Paxton, 4, to know something. "He wanted them to know he was a good guy, and he loved them," Kristin Kimber said. "It was kind of a wake up. . . "

"A wake-up call, he called it," Shumway said.

The women took stock, as well. Last weekend, Kimber brought the kids to Shumway's home. "They had a heart-to-heart," Byrge said, "and afterward, they all went to the stock car races." It clearly came as a relief to Brandon, he said.

"This is his girlfriend," Kristin Kimber told a TV reporter who asked how to describe Shumway. "He loved her, and will you please honor her. He loved her very much."

Her ex-husband had Monday and Tuesday off, days he spent with the kids. On Wednesday, he text-messaged Shumway at 4:30 a.m. that he was leaving for the mine. His shift started at 6. It was 12 hours on, 12 hours off. He would have been past quitting time Thursday when the walls collapsed.

"He was a perfectionist," Byrge said. "If Brandon went out to cut the lawn, he combed his hair and he put on a clean shirt."

In the parking lot, Kristin Kimber talked about the risk.

"You know, we grew up in coal country. There's a risk every day. Coal miners understand that," she said. "But they go to work, and they form a family. They talk about their shift, and they talk about if something were to happen.

"So when this [collapse] happened, Brandon informed me this rescue was something that had to be done. He knew every day that something might happen. But he always said, 'Hey, if it's my time, it's my time.' "

Shumway nodded. She lifted her dark glasses and squinted into the sun through eyes rimmed in red. Both women were distressed to hear that the rescue effort had been suspended.

"I think he would be devastated," she said. "The last thing Brandon would want is for people to stop."

Staff writer Sonya Geis in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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