Neighbor rallies around family of 8 who lost south St. Louis hom - KMOV.com

Neighbor rallies around family of 8 who lost south St. Louis home in fire

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Members of the family who lost their Bevo neighborhood home to a fire in early May (Credit: KMOV) Members of the family who lost their Bevo neighborhood home to a fire in early May (Credit: KMOV)

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- A woman in the Bevo neighborhood is desperately trying to help her neighbors who lost their home in a fire only months after settling into St. Louis from Iraq.

"I saw tons of smoke and then sirens and when I came around and saw the flames and realized it was beyond anyone's control," said Pam Marty who lived across the street from the fire. "I saw the wife holding a 6-month-old baby, no diaper, just a onesie. She was barefoot and in shock and holding Ali like his life depended on it. He is 7, he didn't know what to do. They were standing on the corner, barefoot and alone, watching their house burn and not having any control of it."

The fire happened May 10 in the 4100 block of Schiller Place. The fire jumped from one home to two neighboring homes, including this family of eight's house. Residents along the block told News 4 two brothers lived in the home where the fire started but they appeared to be moving out earlier in the week after a notice was posted on the door. News 4 reached out to St. Louis City fire officials about the cause of the fire but have not heard back. Three homes now sit charred and empty on the block.

The family of eight who lived in the neighboring home that was destroyed by fire had just moved to St. Louis three months ago. At first, Marty didn't know their story but wanted to help anyway. The woman she met on the corner didn't speak English. Marty gave her phone number to the woman's husband who called a few days later. 

"He said they needed three blankets. That's what he asked for. He said he had six children, which I did not know. I had only saw the two the day of the fire. And when he said he had six children and they were in need of three blankets, I just thought what they heck do they need that they're not going to tell me," said Marty.

As she got to know the family in the days that followed, she learned their story which still brings tears to her eyes.

"I felt like he needed and deserved help only on the basis of being alone in this country. With no support system. But the fact he had risked so much and sacrificed so much, both him and his family,  for our soldiers there and then to come here, we owe him a debt of gratitude," said Marty.

She is talking about the father, who said he worked as a translator with the U.S. Military in Iraq for four years. He asked that News 4 conceal his identity because he still fears extremists want to kill him.

"The life before I joined the United States Military, it was a hard life," he said. "I met the U.S. forces one day in Iraq and I asked them to join their forces as an interpreter. They accepted me after a test. They accepted me to join them as a translator. I succeeded in that. I passed the test and I joined them for almost four years."

The father said he spent many months away from his family during that time because of security risks but enjoyed his experience with the military, saying they taught him so much.

"It's actually changed my life and my children's life. They (U.S. forces) protected me and I tried my best to protect them also. I advised them, like if there is a dangerous area or dangerous people, I speak to them to avoid this area," he said.          

After the U.S. withdrew from Iraq, threats against those who aided the U.S. military continued.

"Anyone who has an affiliation with U.S. Army is targeted by the extremist, even now. If I am known there as having any affiliation with U.S. Army, I be killed there. And hundreds of my friends have been killed there already from 2003 to 2011. And after that also," he said.

He said his supervisor helped him apply for the Special Immigrant Visa program. It was set up to help those who worked with the U.S. Armed Forces or under Chief of Mission authority as a translator or interpreter in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Along with his wife and five children, they arrived in America in February 2016. His eldest daughter was already married in Iraq and not eligible to join them. They had a seventh child while living in Kentucky and then moved to St. Louis in February 2017.

"I move from my country here to seek a safer place to live, to live peacefully," he said.

But, all that was shaken on a Wednesday afternoon in May when their house went up in flames after their neighbor's home caught fire.

"My wife contacted me. She couldn't speak at that time. She couldn't talk. She was screaming. 'Come on, come on. Fire. Our house completely, fire surrounded the house.' She couldn't talk," he said.

When he got home, he found his wife and two youngest sons safe, but their new home destroyed. Ali, who is 7, had stayed home from school sick that day. Their other children, ages 14, 12, 16, and 9 were in school. That's the same day he met Pam Marty, a neighbor he had never spoken to before.

“The first time he contacted me was a couple days after the fire, which I'm sure was an act of desperation on his part because he would not have ever approached me and asked for help," said Marty. She has been trying to learn more about what the family truly needs and is begging family and friends to pitch in.

"Still to this day, he will tell you he does not need anything and they will happily live in, I'm not going to say poverty, but a very, very simple life. And I'm not trying to change that. I don't want to complicate their lives. Or give them more things than I think they could use. At the same time, I want them to be as comfortable as any American," said Marty.

Marty has learned the family has long-term needs. They will need a bigger home. Right now, the eight of them are staying in a two-bedroom rental home. They will need school supplies after the summer. The father is passionate about his two daughters, especially, receiving a quality education they would not have had access to in Iraq. Eventually, he will need a job, too. He wants to work as a mechanic. Right now, he is trying to take care of his children and wife, who he said is dealing with severe trauma after surviving unimaginable terrors during the war.

After exhausting her own loved ones, Marty is now hoping other neighbors and even strangers will pitch in. She set up an online fundraiser for the family.  

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