2 TRAGEDIES, 2 MONTHS APART
Gofundme Drive Set Up To Help Dad, 3 Kids
By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
PITTSFIELD – The carbon monoxide detector went off first, waking Richard Miller up last Tuesday, May 14, at about 1:30 a.m.
Then, four smoke detectors on the first floor below him sounded, one after the other, as Richard bolted out of bed. He hurried into the hallway and as he rounded the corner, he saw the wall was glowing red.
“The top of the wall was burned through. I knew I couldn’t put the fire out in time,” he said.
The smoke alarms had awakened his three children, Brandon, 14, Hunter, 10 and Izabella, 8. They met their dad in the hallway, and together the family ran out of the house, unharmed.
“But then I did what you’re never supposed to do – run back in a burning house to get something,” Richard said. “I had to get my wife’s ashes, the urn they’re in.”
Richard’s wife, Sharron, died only two months ago, on Feb. 13, after battling cancer for two years.
The fire destroyed the Millers’ house and the family lost almost everything in the fire. It had been Sharron’s childhood home, and then hers and Richard’s when they bought it eight years ago.
But the insurance had lapsed, and Richard, who formerly worked for the Town of Pittsfield, was unemployed, unable to find daycare for the kids.
“Sharron and I were only thinking about making her better and we forgot to pay for it,” said Richard. “I could not in good conscience leave them alone while I worked at night.”
But the community soon rallied. One of Richard’s friends brought over his old generator an hour after the firemen left last Tuesday so the Millers would have electricity in their camper, where they slept in the days after the fire.
Hours after the fire was extinguished, Richard’s niece Tracy Knapp, who lives in Pittsfield, coordinated a clothing drive and by that night, the Millers had all the clothes and bedding they needed.
“This community is amazing,” Tracy said. “It always pulls together as one to help each other out.”
Also over the weekend was Izabella’s eighth birthday, on May 18. Kelly Banks Cakes of New Berlin made and donated Minnie Mouse cupcakes, and family and friends brought presents and food, “enough to feed an army,” Tracy said.
But the highlight of Izabella’s birthday was when Richard gave the doll she’d had since she was two, named Gracie, back to her. Days after the fire, Gracie was found, blackened but not burned. Her family secretly had Gracie cleaned and refreshed.
“Gracie was saved!” Shannon Delong, Richard’s sister-in-law, cheered on a Facebook post, with a picture of Izabella hugging her doll.
In sifting through the rubble, Brandon found a cross made in memory of his mother, with her portrait and dates of birth and death on it and then Izabella found a photograph of Hunter and his school football team from two years ago. Both items were unscathed.
As the cleanup continued, another friend brought an excavator and worked all weekend taking down the burned house. Richard’s neighbor and Tracy’s father-in-law, Gene Knapp, paid $800 for the use and dumping of dumpsters to help the Millers clear the property to build a new house.
In the meantime, the Millers began living in a house owned by their close friends, the Tullers, until their new one is built.
The house was unfurnished, so Tracy went to work again, asking for donations of furniture, kitchen appliances, and household items on social media. She then drove her truck from house to house all weekend, collecting the items. By Sunday night, the house was completely furnished.
The Tuller family are holding a fundraiser for the Millers, a barbeque dinner on June 22, in Longview Farm’s banquet hall, from 11 a.m. until they sell out. Meals will be $10/each and there will be a Chinese auction. All proceeds will go to the Miller family for building their new house. For more information, call Tracy Knapp at (607) 847-9278.