Upper Big Branch family member says she was pressured to blame M - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Upper Big Branch family member says she was pressured to blame Massey

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NAOMA, W.Va. (WVVA) Gwen Skeens and her brother, Grover Skeens, were the best of friends.

The two siblings shared a home in Staunton, Va. During the week, Skeens would stay at a house paid for by Massey Energy; then on his days off, he would return home.

Skeens said her brother, who worked as an electrician and foreman at the mine, was troubled in the days and weeks leading up to the explosion. 

"He felt that the ventilation plan MSHA had implemented was dangerous. He was very concerned, so concerned that he shared that with us several times." 

On April 5, 2010, an explosion at the mine would rock Skeens and her family forever. She made the trek to Upper Big Branch Mine the next day. 

"I was devastated," said Skeens, upon learning her little brother would never come home.  During one of the hardest weeks of her life, a present from another miner brought Skeens peace. It was Grover's journal and Bible from his house at Massey. 

"I turned to the last page, April 4, 2010. Grover's last five words, that still speak from the grave, were 'I liked working for Massey.' 

Her brother's story was not the story of other miners' families, many of whom placed the blame on the company and the man at the top, Don Blankenship. 

"That's not how I felt. He was a very compassionate man and I think very concerned. The explosion and deaths weighed heavy on his heart," said Skeens, who now speaks to the former Massey CEO regularly.

As a result, there was backlash, she said. Not satisfied with the reports from three separate state, federal, and independent investigations, she pushed MSHA and then-Governor Joe Manchin for answers. But eventually, she said they stopped responding to her letters. 

"I feel like if anybody has blood on their hands, it's MSHA and Joe Manchin," said Skeens. 

In her heart,  Skeens believes the explosion was the result of two factors; an act of God and the lack of air mandated by MSHA. 

Looking back through those reports, she said, there is one page that brings her peace. It is the page where investigators said they found a shiny white curtain, which turned out to be a white rock, along the long wall where Grover worked.

"A light,' said Skeens, in a sea of dark."

"The Lord told me he would give me signs and show me how Grover died, but also to show me that he was not alone. The Lord was with him," adds Skeens. 
 

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