Outpouring of help assists survivors of Sea Air fire

For Anne Cox, paying it forward comes full circle
July 26, 2019

Lying on the ground, Anne Cox had said the Act of Contrition. She was ready to die. 

In the next moments, Noemi Marrero grabbed her and dragged her from the flames as Cox’s home burned to the ground June 4 in a blaze at Sea Air Village. 

Lisa Carrasquillo has been Cox’s companion and friend for years. The day of the fire, she was working and asked Marrero to keep an eye out for Cox, in case she needed anything. No one knew how much she would need help that day. 

Marrero was the first person to reach the raging fire, and unable to lift Cox, she screamed for help and everyone came running. Soon after, most of the neighborhood was rushing to make sure her 5-year-old grandson, Tripp, and husband Mike were safe. The kindness of the community has not stopped supporting the Cox family since that day.

The community began a fund to help purchase a place for the family where the fire occurred in Sea Air Village. Marrero immediately got to work setting up a bake sale. “I made a tres leches cake and someone bought it for $40!” she said. They raised about $4,600. While in the hospital recovering from her injuries, Cox heard people were driving into the park and dropping off checks for a fund to find a new home for the family. “These folks are like family now. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” Cox said.

Cox is still recuperating, and doctors say she will likely not be able to have surgery on her shoulder, which was crushed when she fell out of her door onto the concrete path. She said she knows she is lucky to be alive. She thought of an earlier time in her life when she gave away a mobile home to someone in need, and thought maybe someone might help in her time of need. She picked up the phone to make a call.

Local radio host Dan Gaffney remembered Cox from 24 years ago, when she called his radio station to ask for help giving away a mobile home she planned to replace with a new one. “We were doing well, and I just wanted to give it to someone to use,” she said. Cox recalls a church paid to have the home hauled off the lot and set it up for a homeless woman with three small boys.  

Jim Weller, of Weller’s Utility Trailers, said he was about to do his regular call-in to the radio show and was listening to Cox’s incredible story. “I consider myself a Christian, and I think the Lord impressed upon me at that moment to do something,” Weller said. 

He didn’t hesitate. On the fly he told Gaffney he would match dollar for dollar every dollar donated, up to $5,000. By the end of the day callers had pledged $6,020. “That’s what lower Delaware is all about. Good people helping people,” he said. This is the first time he has ever done something like this, he said. “I’m a cheerful giver,” he added.

Jack Riddle, Community Bank Delaware president, stepped in to facilitate handling the funds that were pouring in. “We are collecting the money and keeping track of the donors for Anne. This is what a locally owned little bank can do,” Riddle said.  

Since that day in June when the Cox family lost everything, they heard about a home for sale in the neighborhood. It took a few weeks to make contact with owner Carol Bitzer, who recently left her beloved home in Sea Air Village to live with her family in Lewes. “They made an offer close to what I wanted, and I am happy to let it go to such a great cause,” Bitzer said.

The family is still replacing paperwork that burned, as well as clothing and toys for Tripp. The week after the fire, he came down with the chicken pox and then a bad cold. He says he is feeling better now. The shy but cheeky kindergartner said, “I like dinosaurs and trucks!” He was sad when he found out he lost his bike in the fire, but Sea Air Village neighbors got together and bought him a new one.

“You just don’t know how much a fire takes away from you until you reach for something and you realize it’s not there,” said Michael Cox. He said his co-workers at the Henlopen Hotel in Rehoboth and neighbors have just been amazing, providing everything they need. “Someone in the hotel heard about our dilemma and just handed me a $100 bill. It just really makes you appreciate people,”  he said.

The family recently drove by the lot where they once lived. “It’s cleared; everything is gone,” Anne Cox said. A devout Catholic, she missed a statue of the Virgin Mary that was burned in the fire. “One of the things St. Vincent De Paul brought me was a new statue and rosaries.” 

Marrero and neighbors went through the wreckage and said everything burned. She found only one thing in the ashes, a charred wooden box with family mementos including rosary beads. She plans on giving that to Cox the day she moves in. “It’s very special, and how it survived is a miracle,” she said. 

“People have just come out in droves to help us, and we are just so grateful,” Cox said. “If my shoulder is always crooked, I don’t care; I’m just truly grateful for everyone.”


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