Editor’s note: The following letter clearly goes beyond the 400 words most letters to the editor are restricted to. However, an exception was made in this case due to the letter’s compelling nature.
To the editor,
To all of my friends and family in my hometown of Stephenville, I want to say thank you for the help and support you given my following the tragic loss of my home and three children during a house fire that occurred on March 7.
I know I did not get to talk to everyone while I was there, so I want to take this opportunity to let you know what happened.
I, Peggy (Smith) Cunningham, awoke Friday (March 7) to a gasp of air. There was smoke and a fire in my house. I was asleep in my room with my 5-year-old, Rowdy Cunningham, who was sleeping right next to me. His daddy works nights.
My 12 year old, Faith Roberts, was asleep on a sofa chair in my room as it was going to be cold that night and I placed the children in certain areas of the house to keep them all warm. I had made Emily Roberts, my eight-year-old, sleep in her brother Rowdy’s bed for the night in Tyler’s Room so they could share the same heater. This room was the next room down the hall from mine. My son Tyler, age 11, was asleep in his bed in that room as well.
My oldest, Laura Wilkinson, was in her bedroom with an electric blanket and her room was located right off of Tyler’s. So when I laid my head down to rest that night I knew everyone would stay warm as it was in the 30s outside and I knew since I placed the last log in the wood burning stove between 9 and 10 p.m., that it would not last until morning.
Tucked cozy and warm in our beds, I awoke at approximately 5:30 a.m. gasping for air as my daughter Laura Wilkinson, 17, awoke and yelled “Fire mommy! Fire!”
Emily had fire safety at school just a few days prior and she knew to “drop down low and go” when there is smoke. She was in Tyler’s room at the time and got on the floor and crawled to me opening my door.
The fire was right on us and over half of the house was in flames. I immediately jumped out of bed and tried to turn on the lights, but there was no electricity. I could hear my precious daughter scream, but I could not get in the hall with her because the smoke was too thick and the flames were hot.
I yelled at her to go to the window and push the TV through it. It was pitch black. I immediately turned around with my baby behind me and tried with all my force to get out my bedroom window. It would not open so I started hitting it with my hand trying to break the glass. I let go of Rowdy’s hand for a moment so I could use both hands to break the glass. With full force, my hands went through the window, but the hole leading out was too small to get through so I placed my arms in front of me and thrusted my entire body through that glass window knowing that this was our only hope.
When I landed outside, I immediately turned to grab the kids through the window. And there pops up Emily, then Faith. I yelled for Rowdy and when he didn’t come, I thought he had passed out right in front of the window from smoke inhalation.
About that time, my brother-in-law, Leonard Green, who lives next door with my sister, Etta, came outside to help. I tried to push my brother-in-law through that window but the smoke was too thick. My sister had taken my other two children to her house for safety.
My car was parked right in front of the house and the keys were inside. Leonard was afraid the car was going to blow up, so he told me to go to the road and he would try to get Rowdy and the other children out of the house. I did this and fell on my face in the road and prayed, “Please, dear Father in heaven save my children.”
The Simms Volunteer Fire Department arrived about 15 minutes or so later along with three other fire departments from nearby towns. I saw them bring out my son, Tyler, and lay him on the ground, where they started CPR. They found Tyler still lying in his bed, as he was the night before. He just went to sleep with the smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Then they brought my little trooper, Laura, who was desperately trying to get to the window and shove the TV through for safety, out on a stretcher and placed her by her brother Tyler in the front yard and began CPR.
Finally, they brought out my baby, Rowdy. I had released his little fingers so that I could break the window. He quickly felt the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning and was sleepy, scared and in the dark. Rowdy did what he knew and he got back into our bed, his safety spot with his puppy and covered back up, not knowing what was really happening. He went back to sleep with his puppy in his arms only to awake next with our father in heaven.
Even after losing my three precious children I feel assurance that God was in control of the situation.
Later, the firefighters told me that a baby as small as Rowdy would only have to take one deep breath for it to take him. Two deep breaths would have consumed my older children. The firefighter worked on my children in the front yard for 45 minutes and then they were forced to walk away.
I feel at peace that my children did not have to suffer; they did not burn up in the fire they simply went to sleep and moved into the next stage of life. I feel 100 percent confident they are in Heaven right now.
I do know that God has a plan for myself, my husband, and my two precious children who survived. I will forever miss my ones who did not.
My job was Mommy and I did it well. I taught them to love the Lord first and foremost and follow his commandments. Those who attended the funeral at Graham Street Church of Christ saw how many lives my children had touched. It made me proud as a mom how much everyone loved them.
After the funeral, we transported the children to New Boston where we would have the candlelight memorial and the releasing of the letter to Tyler by his fifth grade class into the heavens. We laid them to rest at Sand Hill Cemetery in Simms.
I want to thank everyone for their loving support in my family’s time of loss.
I want to also let everyone know that we have an account set up at Bank of America in Stephenville under Dennis and Peggy Cunningham as well as an account at First Convenience Bank under the name of Laura Wilkinson family.
Our hopes are to raise enough funds to get us through this mess and get us another house set up in the spot we lost the last one.
Keep us in your prayer through this unbearable tragedy.
Our current address is 14018 FM 990 Simms, TX 75574.
May God bless you and keep you and your family safe from harm’s way.