Rising out of the ashes

The Moxley family, standing in front of their burned out Benton Township home, from left, Nicole, Justin, Shawn (holding Blake), Jasmine, Lauren, Sigga and Alexa. American Legion Post 105 in Benton Harbor will be holding a benefit cookout Friday for the family that lost their home and possessions on April 30.

BENTON HARBOR — What do you do when you have six kids, two dogs, four cats and no home?

That is the dilemma facing the Moxley family, whose Benton Township home was ravaged by fire on April 30.

Shawn Moxley, a disabled U.S. Air Force veteran, his wife, Sigga, and children Alexa, Nicole, Jasmine, Lauren, Justin and Blake – ages 16 to 4 – are living in two adjacent rooms at a local motel.

They are grateful no one was home at the time of the fire, and that even their pets survived. But now they are wondering how they are going to rebuild their lives.

“We lost everything,” Shawn Moxley said. The intense heat melted everything, including television sets and a washer and dryer.

The American Legion Post 105 in Benton Harbor is holding a fundraiser for the family from 6-10 p.m. Friday, with barbecued wings, a cash bar, 50/50 raffle and music.

The house on Grove Avenue in Benton Township was once owned by Moxley’s grandfather, and holds a lot of memories for him. He refurbished it after it sat vacant for a number of years, and the family has lived there for seven years. He recently redid the bathroom, removed large trees and took out a loan to do other rehab work.

He became concerned when the lights began to flicker off and on and the electricity went off. He checked the circuit breakers, but couldn’t locate the problem.

The night before the fire, the lights were flashing so much “it looked like a strobe light,” he said. “Someone said ‘I think we have a ghost.’”

By that evening Shawn couldn’t get the lights to come back on, and he could hear a sizzling sound inside the walls. It was then that he put the family in their van and went to his mother’s house for the night.

When he returned the next morning to retrieve his daughter’s computer tablet, he saw smoke and flames coming from the building. Neighbors said the fire department was alerted around 7 a.m.

Hours later, when they went inside, the Moxleys could feel the heat radiating from the walls.

Their two Great Danes had been left outside and were uninjured. Two of their cats escaped through a hole the dogs had torn in a back door. Two others were found in the basement several hours after the fire, frazzled but alive.

The parents, the kids – who attend Coloma schools – and the cats are now hunkered down in their motel rooms. It has been difficult to find a rental home that will accommodate a family of eight and their pets. The dogs are at a boarding kennel, which is an added expense.

Living at the motel is costing $3,000 a month, Shawn said, which will quickly eat away at their savings. Without a kitchen, the family eats out a lot, another expense.

Shawn Moxley, whose friends call him Mox, attended Lakeshore High School, where he played football on an undefeated team, before transferring to St. Joseph High School.

He served in the Air Force from 1999 to 2011, reaching the rank of staff sergeant, and was deployed twice to Iraq. He also served in Okinawa –  during a time of heightened tension with the Chinese – and in Iceland where he would meet his future wife. They celebrated their 14th anniversary in April.

Moxley had expected to serve a full 20 years in the Air Force, but was severely injured on an aircraft carrier and ended up with a metal plate in his back.

“This is the type of man to give the shirt off his back. He served our country and now it’s time we step up and serve him,” wrote Ian Davis, the fundraiser’s organizer, on the legion’s Facebook page.

The fundraising dinner, at 1645 Paw Paw Ave. in Benton Harbor, includes a half-pound wing basket for $8, or a 1-pound basket for $15.

In addition to the Friday fundraiser, the American Legion post is accepting donations of cash, gift cards, clothes and other items. The family also has a GoFundMe page, with a goal of raising $10,000.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak