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Friends and family honored Joshua Prince at a memorial service Friday

  • The Prince family held a memorial service in Wilton for Josh Prince, 26, who died in a fire at the Prince home on Dec. 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    The Prince family held a memorial service in Wilton for Josh Prince, 26, who died in a fire at the Prince home on Dec. 23.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Brandon Prince speaks to a crowd of family and friends who gathered on Friday at Michauds Funeral Home in Wilton to honor his brother, Josh Prince.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Brandon Prince speaks to a crowd of family and friends who gathered on Friday at Michauds Funeral Home in Wilton to honor his brother, Josh Prince.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Gregory Prince Jr., 1, known to his family as "Bug" with his uncle, Josh Prince, 26, at a family holiday celebration held the day before both perished in a accidental fire that destroyed the Prince Family home on Dec. 23.

    Gregory Prince Jr., 1, known to his family as "Bug" with his uncle, Josh Prince, 26, at a family holiday celebration held the day before both perished in a accidental fire that destroyed the Prince Family home on Dec. 23.

  • Rev. Mark Brockmeier, pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Wilton, led more than 100 people in a memorial service in Wilton on Friday for Josh Prince, 26, who died in a fire at the Prince home in New Ipswich on Dec. 23. while trying to rescue his 1-year-old nephew, Gregory Prince Jr., who also perished in the fire.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Rev. Mark Brockmeier, pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Wilton, led more than 100 people in a memorial service in Wilton on Friday for Josh Prince, 26, who died in a fire at the Prince home in New Ipswich on Dec. 23. while trying to rescue his 1-year-old nephew, Gregory Prince Jr., who also perished in the fire.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • The Prince family held a memorial service in Wilton for Josh Prince, 26, who died in a fire at the Prince home on Dec. 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Brandon Prince speaks to a crowd of family and friends who gathered on Friday at Michauds Funeral Home in Wilton to honor his brother, Josh Prince.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Gregory Prince Jr., 1, known to his family as "Bug" with his uncle, Josh Prince, 26, at a family holiday celebration held the day before both perished in a accidental fire that destroyed the Prince Family home on Dec. 23.
  • Rev. Mark Brockmeier, pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Wilton, led more than 100 people in a memorial service in Wilton on Friday for Josh Prince, 26, who died in a fire at the Prince home in New Ipswich on Dec. 23. while trying to rescue his 1-year-old nephew, Gregory Prince Jr., who also perished in the fire.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

WILTON — Joshua Prince loved old cars, hunting and above all his family. So much so, that when a fire broke out in the home he resided in with his parents and three of his siblings the day before Christmas Eve, Prince, who had managed to escape the blaze, reentered the home in an attempt to rescue his one-year-old nephew, Gregory “Bug” Prince Jr., who had been spending the night. Neither Prince nor the young boy made it back out of the house again.

“Hero” was the word used to describe Prince during a memorial service at the Michaud Funeral Home in Wilton on Friday, as family and friends recalled his life and the way it ended. The cars of more than 100 mourners lined Maple Street in Wilton as Prince’s family, friends and former teachers came out to pay their respects.

“Josh wasn’t thinking about himself when he went back into that house,” Prince’s younger brother, Brendon Prince told the crowd during the memorial service. “It was because he wasn’t thinking of his own safety that he pushed himself beyond his own limits and was unable to make it back out.”

Prince, who was 26 at the time of his death, was officially identified earlier this month by the state’s medical examiner, but family and friends have known since that tragic morning that he was the one lost along with his nephew. Several family members recalled the day before the fire, when Prince and his family gathered at the home of Prince’s aunt, Lisa Prince Stone, for a family holiday celebration.

The loss of Prince and Gregory Prince Jr. hit the family especially hard because of the timing in the midst of the holiday season, said Stone. Shortly before the fire, the extended family was gathered in her Manchester home for a Christmas celebration.

As she was looking through the photos of Prince taken at the holiday gathering , she said the photos reflect how he usually was — devoted to his family and to his fiance, Brittany Schofield. Lisa Stone’s last memory of Prince was at that party, playing with his nephew, Gregory Prince Jr. of Greenville. The two were going back and forth, playing a game of “I love you more.”

“The night before the fire, we were just hanging out and relaxing,” said Prince’s 10-year-old cousin, Bella Stone, in an interview Friday. “It’s hard to think that’s not going to happen anymore,”

Another cousin, Isaac Stone, 17, said he wasn’t surprised by what Prince had done the morning of the fire.

“If I had to describe him, I would describe him as the guy who ran back into a burning building to save his family, without a moment’s hesitation,” said Isaac Stone in an interview Friday. “Even if I had been there, he would have done the same for me, or anyone else in our family.”

Lisa Stone described Prince as a quiet, soft-spoken person, who would do anything for family.

“A great day in Joshua’s life was playing Monopoly and not letting Sean win; it was fixing Greg’s car so he could get to work and feed his wife and child; it was giving his mother a break on the dishes or changing the oil in her car; it was planning with his dad the next hunting trip or the next upgrade to his truck,” Lisa Stone wrote in an email to the Ledger-Transcript on Friday.

Prince’s fiance, Brittany Schofield, said when she first met Prince that he came off as quiet and shy, but the longer she knew him the more she got to know the outgoing, fun side of him that had netted him an extended circle of friends.

“He was just a really fun person to be around,” said Schofield. “He always made you smile. Always made you laugh. He could make me laugh even when I was sad.”

He shared a love of mechanics and old cars with his father and brothers, and aspired to one day own his own classic muscle car. During the memorial for him Friday, his family and friends recalled his particular love of his old white Chevy truck, which he spent a good amount of his free time working on. Prince was known for driving around in his four-wheel truck during bad snowstorms, and assisting drivers who had slipped off the road or become stuck in snowbanks.

In addition to his love of cars, Prince was a huge outdoorsman, said Schofield. He had a passion for riding his bike, hunting and hiking and fishing. Schofield said he often took her on romantic hikes, and introduced her to fishing, an activity she grew to love. But he could most often be found under the hood of his Chevy S10, tinkering with the engine.

He was so interested in cars that he attended the Universal Technical Institute in Illinois where he became certified as a Volkswagen and Diesel mechanic in 2006. But after working in Chicago, and then in Florida for some time, he wanted to return home to his family in New Ipswich. After his return, he took a job at Alene Candles in Milford, where he first met Schofield.

The two met in September 2011, and by December of that year he had asked her to marry him, Schofield said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Schofield, who also works at Alene Candles, met Prince through work, said it didn’t take long for the two to realize they were more than friends, she said.

“We both started falling in love with each other and it was pretty much irresistible,” Schofield said.

Three months after they met, they were sitting in his truck when he told her he loved her, she said. When she asked him to prove it, he pulled out a ring. The two had planned to announce the engagement to Prince’s family at Christmas.

The fire changed everything. Schofield was in the Prince home at the time of the fire. She said she and Prince both got out of the house, but when Prince realized his parents and nephew were both still inside, he and his brother, Sean Prince, went back for the rest of the family.

“He made sure I was out of the house and safe, and said, ‘I love you baby, I’ll be right back,’ and went back in,” said Schofield.

While Sean Prince was able to assist his parents out of their second-story bedroom, both Prince and his nephew never made it back out.

The family home was completely razed, and vehicles stored in the garage where fire officials say the blaze originated, were destroyed,. Prince’s parents, Beth and Richard Prince, were both seriously injured in the fire and were hospitalized. They were transferred last week from UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worchester to Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield. Their remaining children are staying with an uncle, John Prince, at his Greenville home. A fund in the Prince family name has been created at TD Banknorth to assist with medical expenses and replacing the family’s lost possessions.

“The family is devastated because, not only do they lose Josh and Gregory, their mom and dad have been very sick,” said Stone. “For the other children, it’s been immensely difficult to be going through this and not have their mom and dad to support them.”

A family member read a statement written by Prince’s mom to the crowd of mourners gathered to honor him on Friday. She wrote that as her first born, he brought tears to her eyes when he was first placed in her arms as an infant.

The statement ended simply, “Thank you for looking after Gregory. You are a hero. Love, mom.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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