MINNEOLA, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - In March, a devastating fire in Minneola left a family homeless and grieving. Trevor Gilliam, 17, died in that fire. In an exclusive interview, mother Shellie Gilliam talks for the first time about losing her son and how the community's support saved the family.
Just two nights after a fire broke out at the Gilliam's century-old home they were renting, donations were already piling up at City Hall, including clothes, bedding, shoes, food, and money. These were gestures that made big inroads through the family's pain. "I would like to thank everyone," Gilliam said.
She explained that Trevor was in the house alone, sleeping, when flames broke out March 16. "There was a line across his face where he had actually covered his mouth and eyes to protect him from the smoke. So he was that coherent. He made it down the stairs, and he was found when firefighters tried to open door. His body was blocking. He made it there."
The fire so consuming, that firefighters declared the home a total loss and concluded they would never be able to determine the cause. The fact that her son's body was found at the downstairs door , the fact his bedroom was upstairs where there was a door out to a balcony, and the fact Gilliam says a neighbor heard the family's fire alarm all lead Shellie to believe her son wasn't certain he was alone in the flames.
"I know Trevor. He wasn't sure if mom was in the house," indicating that he may have delayed his own escape to help save others who might have been trapped inside. It's a sequence of events that she, nor her husband and their three other sons, will ever know for sure.
On the night of the fire, everyone but Trevor was out of the home -- one son had already moved out and had no longer lived at the home, Shellie had the other two sons with her picking up dinner, and her husband had taken the dog out for a walk, only to return just before 9 p.m. to a house engulfed in flames.
"He was too good for earth, Mom says. "He had to go up there to do better things beyond my understanding. That's what gets me through."