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Miner's final note: 'Tell all I'll see them on the other side'

This family photo shows miner Martin Toler Jr. with his grandson Cole in 2001.


Sago Mine
West Virginia
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Disasters (General)

TALLMANSVILLE, West Virginia (CNN) -- "It wasn't bad just went to sleep."

Those were the words that 51-year-old Martin Toler Jr. scrawled on a piece of paper in a note to his family, as he was dying in the darkened Sago coal mine where he and 11 other miners perished after an explosion early Monday.

"Tell all I see them on the other side JR I love you," wrote Toler, a section foreman who had spent 32 years working in coal mines.

Toler's nephew, Randy Toler, said his uncle meant to say "I will see them."

"But he, of course, in his distress left the 'will' out," the nephew said.

The piece of paper also has light pen marks on it where it appears Toler scribbled on the paper in an effort to get the pen to work.

The note was released Thursday by Toler's family, who had received it from the coroner.

Randy Toler said the note, written on the back of an insurance form, "was the most precious thing that I believe I've ever seen." (Watch the miner's nephew talk about the note -- 9:10)

He also said that his uncle was a religious man.

"His last scripture in church Sunday night was 'save your affections on things above, not on Earth,' " Randy Toler said.

'Our only comfort'

Bill Rogers, a brother-in-law of bolt operator and third-generation coal miner Jerry Groves, 56, found solace in the note.

"Our only comfort would be that there was no suffering, that they would go to sleep, and there it is," Rogers said. "I hope it's not the fault of the mine and that it's an act of God rather than negligence."

The investigation into the cause of the accident is continuing.

The first to die in Monday's explosion was 50-year-old Terry Helms, whose body was found shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday near the site of the explosion.

The other 12 miners did as they were trained -- they retreated to the safest place they could, erected a barricade, donned their breathing apparatuses and waited. (Inside Sago Mine)

Sometime later, perhaps being slowly overcome by carbon monoxide -- autopsies are incomplete -- the men went to sleep. And 41 hours after the blast, just before midnight, rescuers arrived.

There was initial elation, when officials at the command center thought the rescuers had found the men alive and families, waiting at a church, were notified by cell phone. About three hours later, however, the awful truth came out.

Only Randy McCloy Jr., 26, was still alive. He is in a coma in critical condition at a Pittsburgh hospital. (Full story)

All around Tallmansville, signs of solidarity with the miners' families are everywhere, from black bands on store employee nametags to "Pray for the miners" signs on the front of businesses from McDonald's to a dry cleaning store.

Everywhere, everyone wants to talk about the miners, about the mine, about the loss.

Owen Jones was in the mine at the time of the explosion, as was his brother Jesse Jones, who was deeper into the mine at the time.

"There was no warning, no nothing -- just a, like an incredible amount of air, more than what you can possibly imagine, and dust," Owen Jones told CNN. "You could not see."

In the darkened chaos, he said, he collected himself and was able to walk out of the mine with the rest of his crew. They all knew, with carbon monoxide swirling around, how dangerous it was inside the mine shaft.

He stopped and wanted to check on his brother.

"They begged me to go," he said, referring to his co-workers. "But I said I got a brother in here ... I am going to see if there is anything I can do."

Jones said he and some others pushed back inside slowly, but the air was too poisonous to breathe and he couldn't get close enough to his brother -- something that still haunts him.

"It is going through my mind like a tape recorder, just over and over. Wish that I'd tried this, wish I could have done that. Yes, it hurts you," he said, his voice cracking.

Jesse Jones, like Toler and the others, perished. (Profiles of the miners)

CNN's Kimberly Osias and Brian Todd contributed to this report.

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