DOVER, N.H. — “He knew who was in that home. He knew there were kids in the home.”
Elizabeth Staehle, the mother who fled from her house with four of her children Tuesday night during a fire, said if the fire had struck just a half-hour later Tuesday night, she’s not sure they all would have made it out.
Staehle said she was on the phone with her mother-in-law when a couple came knocking at the door of her 28 Broadway residence, alerting her to flames in the garage.
A non-smoker, Staehle said she had encountered 19-year-old Shawn Hoyt in her basement earlier that day, possibly gaining access from the garage. She told her landlord about her concern seeing the strange man in her home just feet away from her when she entered the basement to do laundry.
Taking to Facebook with her grief and frustration, Staehle wrote Thursday, “My family were the victims of this fire. It was my home that was burned, my children who were almost killed. It makes me sick & furious to hear this mother making these excuses for this young man. I say that’s where the problem starts, right there!!!”
Hoyt, of 8 Lincoln St., is being held in Strafford County jail on $100,000 cash only bail and faces a felony level charge of arson in connection with the fire.
He admitted to investigators he had entered the garage of 28 Broadway that night, where he flicked a cigarette and discarded an orange Bic lighter, an item later recovered by officials.
Breaking down into tears awaiting her son’s arraignment Wednesday morning, Hoyt’s mother, Lisa, said her son dealt with mental health issues, but that “he just wants to be cared for and loved.”
Staehle said Hoyt obviously wasn’t receiving the treatment he needed for any mental health issues.
“He shouldn’t have been able to go wander into people’s homes,” she said.
Hoyt’s mother said her son hadn’t had a prior pattern of trouble with the law or fires. However, in July 2012, he was arrested and charged with reckless conduct in connection with a deliberately set fire in the building at 8 to 10 Lincoln St., the same structure where he and his mother reside.
“I have a 19-year-old son, also. And my 19-year-old son has had a rough life, also,” Staehle said. “But he would never, ever consider doing something like this.”
Since she was on the phone when the fire broke out, Staehle said she was fortunate to have her cell phone in hand to immediately call for help.
As they watched their new home go up in flames and smoke, her 7-year-old son, Michael, thought of some of his and his siblings’ favorite toys.
“My Legos are melting!” Michael said, of what was going through his mind as he stood with his family, all wearing just socks on their feet and no shoes Tuesday night.
Michael, along with his siblings Matthew, 6; Cody 3½ ; and Johnathan, 9½ months were playing with a few new toys Friday afternoon at the Days Inn where the family has been staying since their home burned down.
They had all just moved from Portland, Maine, and before moving into the two-story house, had spent some time at the homeless shelter in Rochester.
“That’s what makes it OK for me, is the responsibility to make it OK for them,” Staehle said of her children, all of whom she is home schooling.
On Friday, despite losing everything familiar to them in the fire, each child was in positive, energetic spirits.
Staehle, having experienced the challenges and realities of domestic violence in the past, said she’s always kept certain things with her and certain things in alternate storage in case a situation arises where she would need to “walk out with nothing.”
“I didn’t think I was going to be in a position to lose everything again,” she said.
They had lived in the house next to the train trestle for about three weeks and Staehle said Tuesday was the day all moving boxes were finally emptied and items found their new places.
“We had just finished getting things into the rooms,” Staehle said.
That evening, there were a couple people who came out to the scene on Pierce Street with a blanket. Another woman arrived with an umbrella for the rain. And another person who happened to be in the area with an RV provided a place where the family could have shelter.
“We have had an outpouring of support,” Staehle said. Many people, she noted, have sought ways to help her children and she is grateful beyond words for that support.
She, like her kids, has also lost everything. From family photos and mementos to her favorite shoes purchased years ago in Los Angeles, Staehle herself is without even the most basic of items with just two pairs of jeans in her possession.
“It’s the things I go to reach for every day,” she said, naming nail clippers and a hairbrush as items she mindlessly reaches out for that are no longer there.
Staehle’s landlord, Daniel Sheehan, who owns the property situated at the corner of Pierce Street and Broadway, has organized a fundraiser for his displaced tenants to be held Saturday, May 24, at Cara’s Irish Pub on Fourth Street.
He said he’s also established an account at TD Bank downtown to which anyone can make a donation in Staehle’s name.
“Thank God that her and her kids got out,” he said Friday evening.
He credited first responders for the fast attack made to control the fire.
“That was pretty incredible,” he said of both the police and fire departments. “They both took care of business.”
Sheehan said the house had just gone through a routine inspection and with hard-wired smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, everything was in place to keep occupants safe. He said Fire Chief Richard Driscoll mentioned to him that alarms inside the home were “going off like mad” Tuesday night.
“She’s lucky they all got out,” he said of Staehle and her children.
Contributions have also come from the Dover Police Charities Fund as well as the George Grenier Memorial Fund of the Fire Department to help sustain the family as they transition into and search for a new place to call home. The Strafford County Community Action Program is working to assist Staehle and her children and the Children’s Museum has donated a year’s worth of free passes for admittance.
The mother said she’s now looking for a three-bedroom home with a yard and proximity to the downtown area, as her former house on Broadway had.
“I finally felt like things were going to get easier for us,” her son, Michael, said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services