Tony Huggins planned to tease his 14-year-old nephew about his sudden new devotion to church when he saw him Mother’s Day.

“I found out that he was kind of liking a young lady in the congregation,” Huggins told a crowd of about 200 mourners Saturday. “Typical teenager, coming to church chasing a young lady … but I was OK with that.”

Huggins never saw Jared Boggs that day. And hours later, Jared, four of his brothers and sisters and his parents — Angela Boggs and Dennis Huggins — were dead, killed by a fast-moving arson fire at their Fultz Street home.

“It’s times like these that make me glad I know God and who he is,” Tony Huggins told the mourners. “Bad things happen to good people; we’re gathered here because of that.”

Tony Huggins, who has been the public face of mourning for the extended Boggs-Huggins family since the May 15 tragedy, is a pastor of Shelton Temple Prayer Church of God on North Hill and also works as a chaplain at Summa Health.

On Saturday, he combined his roles of Huggins family patriarch and preacher, delivering a combination eulogy/sermon that, at times, had the crowd chuckling, tearful and praising God at The Word Church near Chapel Hill Mall.

“Did Antwan make it? Antwan?” Huggins asked the crowd.

When a man popped up, Huggins told the mourners that Dennis Huggins, 35, and friend Antwan had been inseparable growing up in Indianapolis. The two were young entrepreneurs who launched their own candy operation when they were kids, he said.

“Would everyone affiliated with the candy business stand up?” Tony Huggins said.

About eight more men in their 30s stood.

Dennis and Antwan bought candy in bulk, divvied it up among their friends and then stationed kids at busy intersections and storefronts to peddle candy at a markup.

“They were always at my mama’s dividing up the money,” Huggins said.

If one of the candy sellers thought he’d done especially well, Dennis and Antwan would tell him they could take him somewhere else where he could probably do a bit better.

Memories of children

Huggins went on to share details about all of the others who died:

Cameron, 1, had his dad’s smile and dimples.

Alivia, 3, “with that smile would run through the house, clinging to my wife, clinging to my mother … but I couldn’t get her to me, to Uncle Tony, without candy or money.”

Kyle, 5, was Tony Huggins’ grandson’s “running mate” and to save the house, he and his wife secluded the boys in the basement.

Daisia, 6, “Beautiful Daisy,” was Huggins’ granddaughter’s guide. Huggins said his granddaughter has vision problems, born without her retinas developing. She and Daisia “were locked at the elbows, anything they did.”

And Angela Boggs, 35, was first friends with another Huggins brother, Durand. Durand met her while receiving dialysis where she worked as a tech. Durand introduced Angela to Dennis, thinking they’d be a good match and they were, Tony Huggins said.

When Angela first met the Huggins family, the pastor said, she was shy.

“My mother is loud and rambunctious, my grandmother is a notch above that,” he said, chuckling. But Angela quickly found her footing among the Huggins family.

“She would bring the bread, all kinds of spiced bread, so many kinds I can’t name them all. I’m going to miss that,” Huggins said. “One thing about Angela, she loved her family and she loved my brother.”

Lesson from Bible

Tony Huggins — dressed in a dark suit and gold T-shirt carrying the hashtag motto the family adopted since the fire, #HugginsStrong  — turned to the Old Testament after telling the group a bit about his family.

After the fall of ancient Israel, people had lost their children, their homes, their hope until they learned of God’s love, he said.

“With times like these [with the fire] behind us, we can have the mind and strength to look to the hills. … I believe we can find safety in [God’s] arms, leaning in his arms,” Huggins said.

There is peace in the arms of family, too.

After the fire, investigators told the Huggins family they found Angela and Dennis in one room, huddled over their children to protect them, Tony Huggins said.

“No matter what I was going through as a child, when I was in my mother’s arms, I felt pretty good,” he said. “I knew mother was there. I found safety. I found protection.”

The Huggins’ children had that in their final moments.

“I can understand the comfort in their minds,” the pastor said.

“Momma and Daddy was there.”

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com.