Thousands gathered for a memorial service at Baylor University in Waco, Tex., to honor those killed in the April 17 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. “While the eyes of the world may have been fixed on places far away, our hearts have also been here in your time of tribulation,” President Barack Obama told the audience. “And even amidst such sorrow and so much pain, we recognize God’s abundance. We give thanks for the courage and the compassion and the incredible grace of the people of West.”

He honored the first responders and residents who rushed to the scene when the fire alarm sounded, noting, “As we’ve heard, the call went out to volunteers – not professionals – people who just love to serve. People who want to help their neighbors. A call went out to farmers and car salesmen; and welders and funeral home directors; the city secretary and the mayor. It went out to folks who are tough enough and selfless enough to put in a full day’s work and then be ready for more.”

The president acknowledged the loss experienced by the entire, close-knit community by saying, “Most of the people in West know everybody in West. Many of you are probably descended from those first settlers – hardy immigrants who crossed an ocean and kept on going. When someone is in need, you reach out to them and you support them, and you do what it takes to help them carry on.”

The first residents of West, with its current population of 2,800, arrived in the 1840s, followed by Czech immigrants in the 1880s. Until April 17, the town was best known for its Czech food and bakeries – specifically its kolaches – loved by many Texas residents traveling between Austin and Dallas.

“To the people of West, just as we’ve seen the love you share in better times, as friends and brothers and sisters, these hard days have shown your ability to stand tall in times of unimaginable adversity,” Obama told the audience. “And in the days ahead, this love and support will be more important than ever, because there will be moments of doubt and pain and the temptation to wonder how this community will ever fully recover… You have been tested. You have been tried. You have gone through fire. But you are and always will be surrounded by an abundance of love.”