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Jacksonville couple dies in vacation home fire

Daughter, sister remember love of artist, ER nurse who died in North Carolina

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The children of a Southside couple are devastated after their parents died in a fire at their vacation home in North Carolina on Sunday.

Steve McKnelly, 52, and his 51-year-old wife, Lourenda McKnelly, died in the mountains just outside Asheville. The family wants the couple to be remembered for all the good they did when they were alive.

Steve was a local artist and Lourenda, who went by Rendy, was an ER nurse at Baptist Health downtown.

Rendy's daughter, Kristen McKnelly, who resembles her mom a lot, told News4Jax on Thursday that it's hard to believe it's real.

"They are the love that every couple strives to have," said Michele Reichart, Rendy's sister.

Undeniable and now eternal love is how family members describe the relationship Steve and Rendy McKnelly had.

"Rendy and Steve met when they were in middle school. They met at Landon," Reichart said. "They went on a field trip at Disney World."

"And she said, 'I ended up sitting next to him on Space Mountain,'" Kristen McKnelly said. 

"She kind of got forced to sit next to him," Reichart said.

"That's how it all got started," Reichart and McKnelly said together, laughing.

It quickly grew into a love Steve could not live without, so when Rendy's parents said they were moving to North Carolina, Steve did what any hopeless romantic would do.

"Steve was convinced if he moved the For Sale sign in the yard, that we wouldn't move," Reichart said.

"So he'd come by at night and take the sign," McKnelly said. "They kept having to replace the sign."

When that didn't work, Steve requested Rendy's hand in marriage. She was only 17, but she said yes. They built a life together that included four children, a beautiful home with pieces Steve hand crafted, and eventually a vacation home in the middle of the North Carolina mountains.

Sunday, that cabin caught fire. The couple and their dog didn't make it out.

"The only thing that even gives us, or me peace, is knowing that I don't think one could have lived without the other," Reichart said. "As tragic as it is, they aren't here. The fact that they went together."

Their ashes will also be spread together -- across the picturesque mountains they loved so dearly -- in their favorite spot.

The funeral will be later this week, and Baptist will be honoring the couple's lives Friday. Rendy saved many lives as an ER nurse, and her sister said she loved her job.

The family has a GoFundMe account set up for the couple's children, who had to travel from all over the country to get to Jacksonville for the funeral. The account has already raised more than $13,000.

They said they're unbelievably grateful for the kindness and support.

To donate to the family, go to http://www.gofundme.com/mcknellykids