Picking up the pieces after Rensselaer apartment fire

The community comes together after an apartment fire (WLFI)
The community comes together after an apartment fire (WLFI)

RENSSELAER, Ind. (WLFI) — Survivors are speaking out after an accidental fire at Parkview Apartments destroyed the homes of nine families, killing one person and injuring several others.

Inside Melissa Taylor’s new home, almost nothing is her own — her belongings were recently donated.

“And I’m sure that’s baked a lot of bread,” said Taylor as she washed a dish that had clearly been used for years. “And it will bake more.”

It’s a reality she’s faced every day since the fire.

“You think for a moment, I have all of that. Oh yeah, I’ve got one of those, and then you stop and you say, no I don’t, I don’t have it anymore,” Taylor said.

However, she does have her memories.

“Paw prints on my heart,” said Taylor as she read a sign placed on her entertainment center.

Her dog, Daisy, died in the blaze.

“She was such a good dog,” she added. “I think people should stop and think because everything can be gone in an instant.”

The people living in Parkview Apartments weren’t just neighbors, they were like family. That’s why they built a memorial for Mark Stokes, 63, who lost his life in the fire. Neighbors say he was a dedicated and faithful Packers fan.

“You’d say something to him and if he didn’t like it, he said, ‘Well just bring it.’ And we would laugh at him and say, ‘Oh, Stokes, you’re nuts.’ And he’d say, ‘I know it, but I love ya,'” Parkview manager Roxanne Barrett said.

The feeling was mutual.

“Not just loved, but loved deeply by each and every one of us,” said Barrett.

Stokes was Taylor’s next-door neighbor.

“We tried very hard to open the door, nothing,” Taylor said.

Taylor ended up passing out after knocking on doors trying to alert her neighbors. Fellow Parkview resident Johnny Barrett saved her life and others that night.

“He dragged me outside, got me to safety, started giving me CPR,” said Taylor.

On Monday, the city honored Barrett but not the way Taylor does.

“I haven’t stopped hugging this man,” she said. “He’s probably very sick of me now.”

If she could hug the entire city, she would.

“The people have all banded together,” Taylor said.

She said they donated enough for the nine families affected by the fire to live comfortably, but it’s not about things.

“Hold on to your family, remember to kiss your kids goodnight,” said Taylor. “And above all, let everybody know that you love them while you can — we’re not guaranteed tomorrow.”

Taylor and Barrett said they hope to move back to Parkview Apartments if the owner decides to rebuild.

Owner Charles Ramage is in the hospital for a brain bleed but is expected to be back home Saturday.

His wife isn’t sure about future plans but knows the burnt structure needs to be torn down by the end of the month.

News 18 will continue following this story.

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