Lynchburg Woman Struggles for Recovery After House Fire
Shalita Franklin left her family sleeping one summer morning to grab something to eat. When she returned, she found her home engulfed in flames. She and her family, having safely escaped, could only watch as the fire forced them into homelessness.
“It was unbelievable,” Franklin said. “I was just [t]here. What went wrong that fast?”
On July 16, 2016, Franklin’s world was turned upside-down. She was left with nothing but the T-shirt, shorts and sandals she put on that morning.
“That was the first house I’ve ever lived in,” said Franklin, 35. I’ve always lived in an apartment. So that felt like a great accomplishment, and to have it all snatched away like that was really hard.”
Six months later, the Franklins continue to struggle in repairing their shattered lives.
The single mother of two says she has dealt with many hurdles in the months following the fire, but she has not been unaided. Franklin is so grateful for the compassion she received from the Lynchburg community.
The local Millennium Sports Riders chapter spent $1,000 on new clothes for Franklin’s children. The Lynchburg Police Department connected Franklin with a woman in a similar situation for emotional support.
Liberty University’s football coach Turner Gill called multiple times to check up on the family, and gave tickets for every home game that season.
“A lot of people reached out and helped all they could,” said Franklin. “They thought [it] wasn’t a lot, but it was to us because we didn’t have anything.”
A key player in the Franklins’ progress was Jim Whitaker, the Lynchburg Fire Department restoration officer who found the family temporary housing through Victory Outreach Ministries. Whitaker said the process to move the family into one of their Victory Houses started immediately after the fire.
“They can come in with the clothes on their back and they have a nice, safe warm place to stay,” Whitaker said. “There’s no rent, no charge, no expectation that they’re going to give us anything in return.”
Franklin used the relief to get back on her feet, securing a position at a local contact lens manufacturing plant. She and her children have found a place to live near Lynchburg College. The family is recovering, but the struggle is far from over.
“I’m still working hard to get back on my feet,” said Franklin. “We’re in the rough transition of losing everything. That was a hard hurdle I had to get over and realize that it wasn’t going to get better overnight. Two months down the road, it’s still going to be like this.”
According to Franklin, her kids are still traumatized by the experience. Marquel, who leapt from the second story to escape the flames, refuses to sleep in his upstairs room. Instead, he sleeps next to the door. Neither Marquel nor his sister, Zaquira, will go near any open flame.
Apart from this, the children have thrived in the circumstances. Franklin says they both made the honor roll at school and keep an optimistic outlook.
The family also found new role models in the Liberty University football players who stopped during the fire and helped get Marquel to safety. Franklin hails them as heroes for disregarding their own safety.
“They could have lost their lives,” Franklin said. “They could have just said, ‘We don’t know those people,’ and just stood around with their phones out. But they didn’t.”
Franklin says because of the players’ actions, her son now wants to go to Liberty and play football.
There are still dark days for Franklin and her family. She recently lost her car in an accident and finds it difficult to make ends meet. Nevertheless, she is focused on keeping up with her bills, her new home, and her children.
Franklin says her kids are her motivation. Once, facing the prospect of losing water over an unpaid bill, her children went out and filled empty jugs.
“I tell anybody, I have the best kids in the world,” Franklin said. “My babies, they hold their heads high. Most kids couldn’t walk a mile in their shoes.”