On the Friday before Mother’s Day, April Johnson lost three of her four children in an early morning fire that also destroyed her family’s home. The pain of that kind of loss could easily break someone’s spirit, but April says her family and her faith give her the strength to keep going.
Sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by family, she proudly shows off the charm bracelet that honors each of her four children: a Bible for 6-year-old Kyle; a lipstick charm for 7-year-old Kaila; and a music note for 13-year-old TJ.
The siblings’ lives were cut short by a fire that destroyed their Tamina home on May 12. It’s a night none of the survivors will ever forget.
“I still have nightmares,” says April’s father Bobby.
The Montgomery County Fire Marshal’s Office still hasn’t determined the cause of that fire. The Johnsons suspect lightning could be to blame due to a powerful thunderstorm rolled through overnight.
The family woke up to black smoke filling the house, then they saw the flames.
“You see all that fire, you felt like you were in hell,” says Jarvis, April’s brother.
“I said, ‘Oh, Bobby. We’re going to die in here.’ He said, ‘No, we’re not,’” remembers Carrie, April’s mother.
Bobby managed to kick out a window, saving Carrie, Jarvis and 10-year-old Adrian, but they couldn’t get to TJ, Kaila and Kyle through the incredible heat.
“That’s what burned us: the heat. It was so hot. It wasn’t the flames, it was the heat,” Bobby says.
He, Jarvis and Adrian spent several days in the hospital, being treated for burns all over their body. Three months on, the physical scars aren’t too visible. Neither are the emotional scars. The family says the Lord is responsible for both kinds of healing.
“You got to have faith because if you don’t have faith, you’re not going to make it,” says Bobby, pastor at Memorial Church of God in Christ in Willis.
“It’s hard, but God is keeping me,” April echoes. “He’s giving me a peace. He’s comforting me.”
Despite their pain, the Johnsons can’t help but smile and even laugh when talking about the little ones who should be sitting here with them.
“They loved each other,” April says. “They loved each other. And I have good memories.”
Just outside the front door of the family’s new home are unexpected decorations: three pinwheels.
“Sometimes I walk out there, the wind’s not even blowing and they’re just going,” smiles April. “I just say, ‘Hey, babies.’”
Adrian, the one sibling who survived that fire, spotted the pinwheels at the memorial that cropped up outside their old home and told his mom they needed to come to their new home. They’re now a source of comfort for a family still mourning.
“We have our bad days. We cry,” says Bobby. “I go outside and I stand up and look at the windmills out there.”