Family struggling to cope with loss of boy, 3, in fire

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

Feb. 6, 2007 - Funeral arrangements are pending with West Oaks Funeral Home for Cayden West, age 3, who died in the Sunday morning fire that decimated the house where his family lived.

His mother, Beth West, who suffered second-degree burns trying to save the child, was still in the burn unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas this morning but could be released soon.

Cayden's father, Mike West, also suffered burns to his leg and multiple cuts from broken glass sustained when he smashed through a window to get two other children out of the house.

Belinda Morgan, Mike's sister, described Cayden West as a happy, normal 3-year-old who loved to play with his brothers and sister.

"He was a very happy kid," she said. "He loved to have people tell him 'Bye' and hug him and kiss him."

The story is touching and tragic — a young couple and four healthy children, each parent working and one going back to college to help make things better for them all, their lives suddenly tossed into chaos.

The family lost virtually all their possessions in the fire, and had no insurance to cover their losses.

Jo Marie Neal, the chairman for Hopkins County Salvation Army, was fielding offers to help the family this morning. About a dozen bags of children's clothes crowded the entryway to the HCSA headquarters at The Bait and Tackle Shop this morning.

Donna Smith and Steve Smith, owners of Big Smith's Bar-B-Q, were there to drop off toys and clothing, and Donna said they'd be back. 

"All the employees will get together and get them something," she said. "We've always done that."

Belinda Morgan brought the three children with her to HCSA this morning. Engrossed with the toys and a spider they found in the corner, the kids perked up when their father, looking grim and exhausted, opened the door.

"Daddy!" shouted Mikayla, hugging his leg as he came in.

Mike West, obviously looking exhausted both phsyically and emotionally, told of the harrowing ordeal Sunday.

His wife, roused from sleep by an alarm clock, awoke to find the house in flames.

She shouted for Mike to wake up and get the children out. He first jumped from his bed and smashed open a window to get Mikayla, 2, and Connor (Cayden's twin brother) outside to safety.

But the fire was already blocking the hallway to the room Cayden was in. 

"I ran around the house and kicked in the kitchen door, but I couldn't see anything, I couldn't breathe," he said.

Beth West sustained second-degree burns on one arm and her feet from running through the house trying to find her son.

"There was fire on the floor, and she didn't have shoes on," Belinda Morgan said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Assistant Fire Marshal Eric Hill said this morning he had talked to Beth West and had other information to confirm before investigators could finish their report. He expected to release more information Thursday or Friday.

Meanwhile, donations of money, furniture, clothes and toys are still needed, not to mention affordable housing for a family on a limited budget.

Neal said an account has already been set up at Alliance Bank for donations in the name of Mike and Beth West, and those who want to pledge furniture donations can contact Neal at HCSA headquarters at 903-885-9858, or by cell phone at 903-335-1032.

Clothing sizes needed include:

-- Men's size 40 jeans, 2X-3X shirts, and size 15-16 shoes. (Neal said they were having an especially hard time finding shoes that size.)

-- Women's size 2X-3X tops and pants.

-- For Connor, age 3: 4T pants, shirts and underwear, size 10 1/2 shoes.

-- For Mikayla, age 2: 2T pants and shirts, #5 diapers, size 7-8 shoes.

-- Casey, age 6: Size 6 pants, shirts and underwear, size 13 1/2 shoes.

Meanwhile, the rest of the family is trying to piece their lives back together in the wake of the nightmare.

"They're taking it day by day," said Belinda Morgan, Mike West's sister. "But it's hard." 

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