By Shelley Smith
firstname.lastname@example.org KANNAPOLIS — Samantha Doolittle woke up on her hands and knees in the middle of her bedroom surrounded by fire last Friday morning after some sensation pushed her out of her bed.
She turned to look at her 3-year-old’s bed, but Zachary wasn’t there, and then she turned to the crib, where 11-week-old Jacob was sleeping.
With flames shooting across the room, Doolittle said she stood up and got as close as she could to Jacob.
“I went toward the crib and I couldn’t get there,” she said. “It was like something was there stopping me.”
Samantha said she remembers stretching her arms, waving them, desperately trying to reach the crib, but she couldn’t grab Jacob.
“I just feel like I was standing there and God wouldn’t let me go,” she said. “I believe God was holding my son. I believe he took him, made sure he was safe and then left.”
Samantha’s husband, Joey, went back into the house three more times before the roof collapsed on his back and he was forced out without Jacob.
Zachary got out of the home without injury, but Samantha and Joey suffered severe burns, and the wounds — physical and emotional — are going to take a time to heal.
Their son will be buried Friday at Carolina Memorial Park in Kannapolis following a family visitation from 12 p.m. until 1 p.m. at Whitley’s Funeral Home, and a service in the main chapel.
The Doolittles, who had no means of paying for Jacob’s funeral, were able to make the arrangements thanks to donations from the American Red Cross, the Veterans Association of America and local fire departments.
The Lions Club is helping the Doolittles with a new pair of glasses, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College is also trying to raise funds for the family and the Salisbury-Rowan Burn Children Fund is going to pay for the cost of the couple’s Aquacel bandages — $400 for five — which are not covered by their insurance.
But after their wounds heal, they still have to start over. They will have to find another home and a vehicle to drive.
The family has set up the “Doolittle Fire Fund.” Donations can be made at any branch of Wachovia Bank.
Samantha says the family has plenty of clothing, but needs help with household items, rent and utility deposits and a vehicle.
“Birth certificates, driver’s licenses, everything’s gone,” she said. “When they said we lost it all, we lost it all.”
Samantha said there are a lot of heroes who risked their own lives last Friday, but one stands out.
“The major hero is my 3-year-old sitting on the floor right there,” she said, pointing to Zachary, who was playing with toys at Samantha’s mother’s house Tuesday night. “He woke Joey up by grabbing his big toe and said, ‘Daddy get up, get up, get up.’ He saw that smoke.
“If Zachary wouldn’t have woken up, my family would be burying all four of us.”
• • •
Jacob was big for his age, Samantha said. At 11 weeks, he was eating rice cereal and had his first taste of baby food the day before the fire struck.
“He had carrots, and boy he had one hell of a stomach ache,” Samantha said.
The family moved to Salisbury on Feb. 13, renting a house a few doors down from Joey’s first cousin, Samuel McBryde, and his wife, Beth. Samuel was giving Joey work, and promised he would have enough work for rent each month as the Doolittles got their feet on the ground.
“And we had just bought that car,” Samantha said. “We’d had it two to three weeks. I paid $700 for the car, and boy, I loved it.”
The house at 310 E. Henderson St. was rented, and the family loved it. They were close to their family and friends.
But the only problem with the house, she said, was the lack of smoke detectors.
“My house did not have a single one,” Samantha said. “Make sure, no matter what, make sure you get smoke detectors.”
After the roof collapsed on Joey, he had to be stabilized at Rowan Regional Medical Center before he could be flown to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
Joey’s boxer shorts had melted into his skin, and had burns up his leg and thigh.
Samantha suffered burns to her hands, fingertips, face, the middle of her back and her knees. She was also flown to Baptist. Joey was released Saturday and Samantha was released on Sunday. Samantha has to go back for treatments in a week, Joey in two weeks. Both wear Aquacel pads on their wounds, and they have to changes bandages at least once a day.
Their recollection of last Friday’s events is still fuzzy.
She remembers running to the McBryde’s house and calling 911, and she remembers being taken away in an ambulance.
“It seemed like everyone was moving in slow motion,” she said. “It was very scary. The scariest thing I’ve ever been through.
“I don’t think anyone could imagine it unless you went through it, waking up with flames all around you.
“And when you come out and see the flames wrapped around your door into the roof, knowing your baby’s still in there, it’s unexplainable.”
• • •
Samantha said she’s trying to get Zachary to accept that “Jacob’s with the angels.”
“I don’t think he fully understands,” she said. “He knows about the fire because he saw it, he’s the only one who woke us up. But I don’t think he realizes it.”
The family is still trying to comprehend what happened themselves.
“We just don’t understand what God has a purpose for an 11-week-old baby up in heaven,” Samantha said. “He’ll never be forgotten. He was here for just a short time, and he will never be forgotten, that’s for sure.”
But they have hope, and are praying there’s a reason Jacob was taken away from them.
“I honestly believe there’s a purpose why we’re still here,” she said. “I believe my purpose was to mother (Zachary), and he’s gonna be something great.”
The Doolittles are thankful Jacob’s funeral expenses have been covered by the community, and they are grateful to everyone who is praying for them.
“We want to tell everyone, every single person who has made donations, everyone who has said a prayer, everyone who has even said I’m sorry for your loss, I want to say thank you,” Samantha said. “We do appreciate everything deeply from the bottom of our hearts.”
Another person they want to thank is East Spencer Police Officer Darren Westmoreland, who was the first person to respond to the 911 call.
“Thank you for being very brave,” Samantha said. “He tried to go in there. He went to go in that house and he couldn’t do it.”
The fire is still under investigation, but investigators believe it started near Zachary’s bed.
Samantha still believes she could have saved Jacob’s life if she had just been able to reach him, but authorities say Jacob died from smoke inhalation probably within the first five minutes the smoke began to fill the bedroom.
“This fire will haunt me for the rest of my life,” Samantha said.
Want to help?
Joey and Samantha Doolittle, and their 3-year-old son, Zachary, do not need clothing, but they do need household items, a vehicle, and money for food and for deposits for a new home. Their medical expenses are also increasing.
To help them, visit any Wachovia Bank branch and donate to the “Doolittle Fire Fund.” The fund was set up by the family on Tuesday.
Contact reporter Shelley Smith at 704-797-4246.