At about 1 a.m. Friday, Franklin County eighth-grader Cameron Maxwell heard the family’s new litter of puppies barking outside his Eastpoint home and when he smelled smoke and noticed flames, he quickly awoke his 9-year-old brother Bentley Wallace.
The boys yelled to their sisters in the next room, Franklin County fifth-grader Alexis Sloan, and fourth-grader Lillian Sloan, and ran over to awaken their parents, Crystal and Thomas Cooper.
He and his wife made it outside. Dad told Cameron to run to a neighbor’s house to call 911.
That’s when they saw Alexis and Lily hadn’t gotten out.
Thomas Cooper ran back inside to get tools to clear a path to his girls, and Crystal jumped in the car and rammed into the building twice, before she had to stop when the smoke overwhelmed her.
Thomas’ mom, Sherry Walker, got the call and sped to the house at 607 Wilderness Road. She had spent the whole day over there with Crystal and Lilly, who was running a high fever.
“She was weak because she was sick,” said Walker.
Cameron said the last thing he saw was Alexis holding her ailing young sister. “Alexis never left her,” said grandmother.
Crystal sustained burns on her hand from the hot car, as well as in her futile attempt to open a window near an air conditioning unit.
But they didn’t threaten her life, nowhere near how much the searing anguish that tore through her in the realization her two precious daughters had succumbed to the fire.
On Friday, members of the family gathered to survey the ravaged land. Thomas Cooper’s stepfather Clint Walker recalled how he had spent the day before casting nets for mullet with his stepson, a hard-working Eastpoint seafood worker who was earning money for his family of eight.
There has yet to be confirmation as to the cause of the fire but the family believes the wind may have blown over a heat lamp being used to keep warm the six brindle puppies birthed by Callie, the family’s Chow.[cqmedia layout=”panel” content=”eyJwaG90byI6W10sInZpZGVvIjpbeyJtZWRpYV90eXBlIjoidmlkZW8iLCJwaG90b19pZCI6IjkwNDYiLCJwaG90b19jYXB0aW9uIjoiIiwicGhvdG9fY3JlZGl0IjoiIn1dLCJmaWxlIjpbXX0=”]
“The puppies literally had just opened their eyes,” said Walker. “Crystal was so proud of them.”
Crystal knew each of the kids would want to cuddle one, and it was too soon, so they kept them outside, with a heat source.
The family has been staying at the home of Suzanne Lichardello, and there has been a tremendous outpouring from the community.
Donations are being collected by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. The family currently has plenty of clothes but household essentials are needed.
The sheriff has set up a charity fund at https://square.link/u/uyscpp2H A check can also be mailed to 270 State Road 65, Eastpoint, FL 32328, please make sure it is memoed to the Cooper Family.
Centennial Bank has an account set up, and donations can be made to the Cooper Family. The
Emerald Coast Credit Union is hosting a yard sale on Saturday, Jan. 29 at their location, 268 Highway 98 Eastpoint.
On Sunday afternoon, more than 100 people turned out to Hope Park, which is just a road away, for a prayer vigil, led by Pastor Mike Johnson, from the Eastpoint Church of Christ.
Johnson will oversee the funeral service at Kelleys Funeral Home in Apalachicola on Friday, Jan. 28, beginning with visitation at 10 a.m. Burial will follow at Eastpoint Cemetery.
Walker said that she plans to relocate the many flowers, teddy bears, and other items that people have been leaving at the house to the gravesite.