Two nights ago — exactly one year, almost to the hour, after 8-year-old Taylor Jackson died in a house fire during a sleepover — her mother and a friend launched a Facebook site, “Taylor Your Home 4 Safety.”
Beside Taylor’s face, grinning beneath a bandana, mother Terri Jackson posted: “This page was created in hopes of spreading the word that smoke detectors save lives. Please spread the word”
And the word spread. More than 300 Facebook friends were aboard by morning. For Terri Jackson and surviving daughter Tiffany, of Overland Park, the horror and hurt remain fresh. But they knew this anniversary would come.
And Mom could either spend it bawling over the cruelty of it all, or she could spend it trying to help others — as Taylor would’ve wanted.
“I could get angry, and yes, I’ve been angry,” she said Tuesday. “But what good will come of that?”
The duplex in which Taylor died last Oct. 1 had no working detector when an electrical fire started in the attic. She was sleeping in an upstairs bedroom as smoke poured in. Her best friend’s family, with whom she was staying, managed to escape, their efforts to rescue the girl turned away by smoke and heat that filled the second-floor hallway.
“Just a horrible story — but a perfect illustration of the need for early warning,” said Jason Rhodes of the Overland Park Fire Department. “The fact Ms. Jackson is willing to do what she can to prevent this from happening to other families may be the only good that comes from this.”
So Terri Jackson had launched a campaign:
Check your smoke detectors, everybody. Change the batteries every six months. And if you need a reminder, Terri ordered up some purple-and-white bracelets for you.
It was a boy named Eric Kelley, 10, who encouraged her to take action.
Eric, for his part, plans to go around town asking Walmart and other stores to donate batteries and smoke alarms for the cause.
Eric didn’t know Taylor that well. But he admired her pluck, especially on the day she walked up to some boys who were trying to pick a fight with Eric.
She wagged her finger at them and said, “You better stop bullying that boy, or I’m gonna tell.”
The bullying ceased. And not more than a couple of months later, Eric lost his new friend to the fire.
Eric said Tuesday: “I got involved because I don’t want Taylor’s sister and mom to feel bad all the time.
“And I don’t want other kids to die.”Sass and karate
Taylor possessed just the right amount of sass, say those who knew her.
“When she was in the room, boy, everyone knew it,” said LeAnn Kelley, Eric’s mom.
Taylor knew karate. She hugged people as if trying to crack their ribs. She wore a bandana to set herself apart from the crowd.
And while her mother and older sister were boosters of the Kansas Jayhawks, Taylor defiantly rooted for K-State, her grandfather’s alma mater.
Because purple was Taylor’s favorite color, her sister chose to wear a purple dress Tuesday in Taylor’s memory.
Not that all of the memories were sweet. “She’d run around, call me names, pull my hair, I could go on,” Tiffany said with a wry smile.
Mother Terri’s nickname for Taylor was “my Bug.” Taylor, she said, was a scrapper from the start, born nine weeks premature, so no, she wouldn’t want to see her family giving in to grief.
“She’d want us to do what we could to turn this into a positive,” Terri said.
On the night of Taylor’s death, Terri and Tiffany were living temporarily with friends a few blocks from where the fire started. Terri had suffered a hip fracture that summer and she couldn’t climb the stairs of her own home.
A neighbor, Dana Roberts, noticed smoke coming from the 10200 block of West 86th Terrace and hurried to the scene.
The family members who lived in the burning duplex were already safely out. But Taylor’s best friend, a girl named Marina, was crying.
She had tried to wake Taylor. She had tried. But the smoke got too thick. Marina had to run.
“Taylor was such a deep sleeper,” Terri said.
Taylor must have woken, because firefighters found her on the floor. They rushed her to a hospital, by which time Terri had been notified by Marina’s mother. Terri saw medical crews perform CPR on her daughter as they wheeled her from the ambulance.
“You fought to get into this world,” Mom told her. “You need to fight to stay in it.”
A short time later, a physician who was working on Taylor stepped to her waiting mother and said, “You need to say your goodbyes.”Moving forward
With settlement money from the insurance company, Terri and Tiffany would buy a ranch home not far from where Taylor died.
They would get a puppy and name him Buddy.
Apache Elementary School, where Taylor was a third-grader, planted a magnolia tree and installed a bench bearing a plaque honoring her.
Eric, the boy Taylor helped spare from the bullies, would visit Taylor’s grave and place a solar-powered, illuminating angel there.
“She had a great smile that was always bright,” he said.
On Tuesday, Taylor’s Girl Scout troop gathered near the bench at the school to set purple balloons aloft.
All of the kind gestures and thoughts help, Terri said. But what would help the most is preventing such a tragedy from happening to other families.
The family whose duplex burned has moved to another state. The parents told investigators they had removed batteries from the smoke detectors, but never installed new ones.
“There’s so many ‘could’ve, would’ve’ I could ask myself,” Terri said. “That doesn’t help anybody.”
A smoke detector with fresh batteries. That helps.
“It’s the worst nightmare that could happen to a parent,” said neighbor Roberts, who would become one of Terri’s best friends in the months after the tragedy.
Roberts came up with the safety campaign’s moniker, “Taylor Your Home 4 Safety.”
“Terri and Tiffany will never get over the pain,” Roberts said. “But if they can focus their energy on helping others stay safe, it will go a long way to helping themselves get through.”