Aunt copes as victim struggles

Kyle Tucker

NASHVILLE – Virginia White’s hands trembled slightly as she raised a cigarette to her lips Sunday evening. She sat on a bench outside Vanderbilt Medical Center, taking a brief respite from the swirling chaos of the previous 16 hours.

Her eyes were red, her hair disheveled, her stare distant and deep. Katie Autry’s aunt has been holding vigil, along with Autry’s parents, beside her hospital bed in the Intensive Care Unit of Vanderbilt’s burn center since early Sunday morning.

Autry was severely burned in a fire early Sunday in Poland Hall. She was first taken to the Medical Center, but was later airlifted to Vanderbilt.

White said the family asks one thing of the Western family.

“Pray for her,” she said. “That’s all anybody can do. She needs all the prayers she can get.”

As of 5:45 p.m. Sunday, White reported that doctors had categorized Autry’s condition as stable but critical. She would say no more.

In fact, White said little there on the bench. She has said little since the early morning call that sent her first to the Medical Center and then with Autry’s parents to Vanderbilt.

The family, White said, still can’t believe what has happened.

Shock,” she said. “I mean, she was in her dorm room. I don’t see how something like this could happen. We’re not sure exactly what happened.”

White said police are advising the family not to speak in any detail about the events that may have transpired in the moments before Autry’s burned body was pulled from her Poland dorm room and rushed to the Medical Center.

She did, however question the security in Western’s dorms.

“Is Western going to do something to improve security?” White wondered aloud. “Do you feel safe?”

She fielded several phone calls as she tried to escape the madness momentarily. She was brief and vague in all her replies. White looked dazed as she took her last drag, snuffing out the smoldering cigarette beneath her tired feet.

She was still trying to understand, still trying to remember a time when she couldn’t have imagined such a tragedy. She had no trouble talking about her niece, though.

“To me, she was always happy, even if I wasn’t. She always smiled. She was just an outgoing person,” White said. “She didn’t deserve to be here.”

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