David Apperson sat on the edge of a sofa Tuesday afternoon, his hands folded and his eyes fighting back tears.
He looked at the 8-year-old boy playing on the floor in front of him and asked him to translate between him and the boy’s mother, Loanmy Triana, a Cuban refugee.
“Tell your mother I said thank you,” Apperson said.
The words needed no translation.
The two hugged, and Triana offered her prayers for Apperson’s family.
Just hours earlier, Triana, her husband, Pedro Leon, and their sons rescued Apperson’s son, Shawn, and his family from their burning Hillyard home.
Shawn Apperson, who had already rescued his fiancee and one of their children, had charged back into the burning home but collapsed in the smoke before he could get back out with another child. The quick-thinking neighbors and Spokane firefighters picked up where Shawn Apperson left off. He was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with burns on 80 percent of his body.
One of the rescued children, 3-year-old Kaiden, was hospitalized with smoke inhalation. Shawn Apperson’s fiancee, Jessica Hammond, and the other three children in the house were treated and released from hospitals Tuesday afternoon.
According to a news release from the Spokane Fire Department, the fire began in the basement of the house at 2923 E. Central Ave. just before 7 a.m. The cause is still under investigation.
David Apperson said his son was able to push Hammond and their 11-month-old baby, Ella, out of the house through a window. Hammond put the baby in their car, but when she turned around, her fiance had disappeared back into the house. The smoke was too thick for her to re-enter.
Next door, Leon saw his neighbor’s house filling with smoke, pulled on whatever clothes he could find, and ran with his wife and their two oldest sons to see what they could do.
He said Hammond was outside the house screaming – and the faces of her children were staring through the windows.
“I say, ‘(don’t) enter the house, stay here!’ ” Leon said.
Leon waved to the first child, a 5-year-old named Lainey, to tell her to back away from the window.
He broke through the window, pulled the girl out, handed her to his wife, and moved to the next window.
He broke the other window and grabbed 4-year-old Sam.
While he went back to his house for more clothing – he’d forgotten to put on pants – Leon’s sons knocked out the doors and more windows to see if they could reach Shawn Apperson.
The smoke was too thick, so they waited for the fire department.
Crews were able to rescue Kaiden and his father from the basement.
Leon said it was clear Apperson was trying to save his family. A father of three boys, Leon said he was more than a little nervous rescuing his neighbors.
Their kids have played together in the summer, he said, and the families looked out for each other.
“He’s a very, very nice neighbor,” Leon said of Apperson.
David Apperson said he woke up to a call from one of his son’s neighbors telling him to get to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
“I didn’t know what I was walking into,” he said.
He was able to see his son, who was unconscious, before he was flown to Seattle.
With his son in good hands, David Apperson went to the house to survey the damage. The one-story house is still standing, and a damage estimate was not yet available Tuesday.
A fund has been set up in the Appersons’ name at Inland Northwest Bank. Extended family members are going to both Seattle and Spokane to be with Shawn and help take care of the children, at least two of whom suffered minor cuts and burns.
“We’re going to take care of the kids first,” Apperson said.
Shawn Apperson and Hammond, who are both in their 20s, work together at the Chili’s restaurant at NorthTown Mall and are planning to get married in June, family members said.
With his son in critical condition, the elder Apperson said he is comforted knowing his son risked his life to save his family.
“He did the best he could to get all his family out of that house,” he said. “And he didn’t quite make it out.”