First responders often go into dangerous situations without a second thought. They put their lives on the line to save others and sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice. On many occasions, they have saved hundreds of lives and sacrificed their own because that is what the job called for.
When the fallen heroes are gone, their families are often left behind with sadness and pain. The Tunnel to Towers Foundation honored the lives of five fallen first responders by surprising their families during the foundation’s Season of Hope. Keep reading to see how this generosity has impacted these families.
A Generous Gift
In December 2021, The Tunnel to Towers Foundation commenced its third annual Season of Hope by paying off the mortgages of five families of fallen first responders. The organization was founded to honor the sacrifice of firefighter Stephen Siller, who laid down his life to save others on September 11, 2001.
The foundation recognizes the sacrifice these first responders make and how it impacts their families. Besides the pain of losing a loved one, the families of fallen heroes have to adjust financially. Thanks to the foundation, these five families remain in the home where they made precious memories with their fallen heroes.
Battalion Chief Edward Louis Karriem
On February 13, 2021, Battalion Chief Edward Louis Karriem of the Little Rock Fire Department responded to a house call and died doing what he was driven and committed to: saving lives. After saving people from a house fire, he was found unresponsive in his command car. He was only 41.
Karriem was known for always going above and beyond. He was a loyal, dedicated, and devoted husband, father, and firefighter. He dedicated 17 years to saving others because he had a yearning in his heart to give back and help people. He left behind a wife, four daughters, and two stepsons.
He Was Always Humble
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Karriem moved to Little Rock, Arkansas as a child and spent the rest of his life serving his community. He was a firefighter for seven years, an engineer for two years, a chief for seven years, and battalion chief for one year. Karriem had many accomplishments but never bragged about them.
Many remember him for being humble and always willing to lend a helping hand or financial support. Community members said you only had to ask him once, and he was there to fix the problem. Karriem opened his heart and arms to mentor fellow firefighters and make a difference.
Grateful for the Donation
When the Tunnel to Towers Foundation offered to pay Karriem’s mortgage, his family was beyond thankful. It lifted a huge financial burden off his wife, who was left to be a single parent of six children. Karriem’s oldest daughter, Kennedy, was grateful to honor her father’s memory.
Kennedy said, “I will always feel happily obligated to relive his memory wherever and whenever. My dad deserved more years than he got. My dad will always be one of a kind.” She shared how much her father loved his job and that the station was his second home. He died doing what he loved.
Police Officer Myron Anthony Jarrett
After serving eight years for the Detroit Police Department in Michigan, Police officer Myron Jarrett was struck and killed on October 28, 2016. While assisting other officers at a traffic stop, a van struck him, and the driver fled. His fellow officers took him to the hospital, but it was too late.
Jarrett was just 40 years old, leaving behind a wife, two daughters, and two sons. His wife, Sacha, said she told him she loved him and would see him later before he left for his shift. She had no idea he wouldn’t come home that night.
High School Sweethearts
Jarrett and his wife met while attending Detroit Southeastern High School and fell in love as teenagers. Shortly after high school, the two married and had four children. Sacha said it was a normal day when Jarrett left for work, but he didn’t return.
She loved him deeply and never expected the love of her life to be taken from her so soon. Nine months after Jarrett’s death, their 16-year-old son, Cameron, unexpectedly passed away. Sacha also lost her father that year. It was devastating to be surrounded by so much loss.
Cherishing the Memories
Although her husband is gone, Sacha cherishes the memories they made together. The two lived in their home for most of their marriage and had many precious moments there. The donation from Tunnel to Towers allowed Sacha and her children to stay in their beloved home.
Jarrett’s fellow officers rallied around Sacha and her children, and the mortgage payoff was very unexpected. It allowed her to have a stress-free holiday season at a time when she missed her husband the most. His family will always honor his memory and his sacrifice.
Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Proxmire
On August 15, 2021, Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Proxmire was part of a group of deputies who responded to a call at a Shell gas station in Galesburg, Michigan. When deputies approached the suspect, he pulled out a gun and fled, leading to a car chase.
A few minutes into the pursuit, the suspect fired at the deputies, shooting Proxmire. His car went off the side of the road, and someone called 911 to get him to the hospital. Proxmire sadly died at the hospital from his injuries, leaving behind a wife and four children.
The Ultimate Sacrifice
Proxmire pledged to protect and serve his community and paid the ultimate price. He was remembered for his honor, dignity, and courage. He previously worked in the corrections department before his service in road patrol. He was also a field training officer.
He spent nine years of his life dedicated to serving others. Proxmire’s family felt lucky to have their mortgage paid off because they had already been through so many changes and didn’t want to move. It was important to his wife that the family stay in their home without worrying.
State Trooper Thomas Clardy
While conducting a traffic stop on March 16, 2016, Massachusetts State Trooper Thomas Clardy was killed when a car struck him and swerved into his patrol cruiser. Clardy was an 11-year veteran of the Massachusetts State Police and had served in the US Marine Corps.
Clardy was an honorable man who lived to serve his community. The 44-year-old left behind a wife and six children. His wife, Reisa, was left to raise her children as a single mother, which was a huge challenge. However, she got justice when her husband’s killer went to prison.
He Spent His Life Serving Others
Before Clardy began his career in law enforcement, he served in the US Army for two years before transferring to the Marine Corps, where he served for 11 years. He spent much of his adult life serving his country and community because it was what he loved.
He was well-liked by everyone who knew him and earned a reputation as a hard worker, good trooper, and great man. Clardy was dedicated to his job and loved his family. His fellow officers said Clardy was professional and would be greatly missed.
It Made Life Easier
When Reisa found out Tunnel to Towers would pay off her mortgage, she felt incredibly grateful. She said, “Knowing our home will be paid off gives my family so much comfort and a sense of security. Being able to keep my children in their home is a blessing.”
Clardy’s wife said the holidays were a hard time for her family since her husband passed away, but this gift gave them faith, joy, and happiness during the holiday season. Reisa added, “It eases the burden and allows us to be together as a family with less worry.”
Firefighter Brett Burkinshaw
Although he didn’t die in the line of duty, Firefighter Brett Burkinshaw was honored for his dedication to serving others. On July 1, 2021, Burkinshaw passed away after a 19-month battle with brain cancer. He was 47 and is survived by his wife and daughter.
He served the Newburyport Fire Department for 18 years, starting as a call firefighter before becoming a full-time member of the department. Burkinshaw was also a reserve police officer for the Newburyport Police Department since 2005. He was dedicated to his job and helping everyone.
A Helping Hand
Burkinshaw was an electrician by trade. He saved his city thousands of dollars by volunteering to repair the wiring in emergency lights and sirens in both fire engines and police cruisers. Everyone who knew Burkinshaw said he was a remarkable and kind person.
He made a lasting impression on everyone, which was evident by the profound community support upon his diagnosis. Everyone wanted to help Burkinshaw and his family because he had spent so many years helping everyone else. After his death, the community rallied to support his family.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
Burkinshaw’s wife, Cheryl, was devastated by the loss of her husband. But the donation from Tunnel to Towers gave her a home. She shared, “A home is where the heart is and where we have so many happy memories with Brett.”
Cheryl said, “Knowing that my daughter and I will have the security of our forever home being mortgage free is impossible to put into words.” It was their first holiday season without Burkinshaw, but Tunnel to Towers made the holidays much easier because they didn’t have to worry about their home.
No Place Like Home
Tunnel to Towers has paid off the mortgages of many families of fallen first responders because having the security of keeping your home is an incredible gift. Mortgage payments are expensive, and this gives these families peace during their time of grieving.
While these families thankfully get to stay in their homes because of the donation, others are still struggling. Linda Taylor, a Minneapolis resident, was about to be evicted from her home after living there for nearly two decades because she couldn’t make the payments. Luckily, her community rallied to keep a roof over her head.
She Made a Bad Deal
Linda Taylor moved into her Minneapolis home 18 years ago. She turned the house into a home and has had four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren since moving in. Her home was filled with many precious memories, but that was almost taken away from her.
Taylor originally purchased the home in 2004 but went into foreclosure the following year. Todd Cushman purchased it from her and convinced Taylor to sign a contract that claimed she would have to pay him rent, but she could maintain ownership of the home.
He Swindled Her
It was a horrible deal, and Taylor said Cushman misrepresented his verbal claims. When she signed the contract, she unknowingly signed ownership of her home over to Cushman. A few years later, Cushman pleaded guilty to four counts of defrauding.
Taylor’s home was one of the properties listed in the case, so her home went back into the bank’s possession. Gregory Berendt then purchased it before Taylor could go to court for foreclosure. He agreed to rent the property to her, but she didn’t know it would be a nightmare.
Well-Known Community Member
Taylor was a staple in her community. Everyone knew who she was because she worked in the soup kitchen and at a local non-profit. Her neighbor, Andrew Fahlstrom, said, “Miss Linda has been an institution in this neighborhood. She knows everyone; she’s the friendliest person in a five-block radius.”
She always helped others and was the friendly face everyone looked to in the community. Taylor never thought she would have to leave her home, but hard times hit during the pandemic. She was laid off from her non-profit job after three years.
She Used Her Savings
When Taylor lost her job, she continued paying $1,400 per month for rent. She had to dip into her savings and money from her family and government subsidies, including RentHelpMN, a program started during the pandemic to help Minnesotans at risk of losing their housing.
Despite doing her best to pay, Taylor’s landlord said he wanted to sell the house, so she would have to vacate the property. Berendt offered Taylor the option to buy the home, but she didn’t have the funds. She was heartbroken because she had put so much love into that house.
When Berendt bought the property, he and Taylor did not form a friendship; he was strictly her landlord. They barely spoke, and he refused to make any repairs to the home. Taylor previously worked as a drywaller, so she made many improvements to the home.
Taylor upgraded the weatherization at her own cost and did all the repairs out of pocket. Berendt never offered to help maintain the property he owned. Taylor wanted to negotiate the move-out date, but he didn’t want to give her any favors.
She Tried to Buy It
Several times over the years, Taylor tried to buy her home, but she always ran into obstacles. She went to social services and applied for programs and grants geared toward renters who wanted to buy their homes but never got enough money.
Her five children were always there to support her, but Taylor knew they were not in a position to offer significant financial help. The landlord raised the rent twice during the pandemic, and she paid every month for 18 years. All of that money could have paid for the house.
Asking for Help
When Taylor discovered she would be evicted from her beloved home, she asked Fahlstrom for help. He knew everyone in the community loved her, so he got the word out about her situation. Fahlstrom talked with others in the neighborhood to brainstorm ideas.
Fahlstorm and other neighbors came up with several ideas to help Taylor. The group circulated a letter with 430 signatures asking to let Taylor stay and sent it to Berendt. They also set up a website and fundraiser explaining Taylor’s situation so that people could donate.
She Didn’t Want to Leave
Taylor wanted to stay in her home. She said, “I want to stay because I believe in Powderhorn. I believe in the neighbors. This shows love, and when you have love and unity, things are always going to be better.” Taylor felt close to her neighbors.
After spending nearly two decades in the same home, Taylor wasn’t ready to give up so easily. Her neighbors banded together to put pressure on Berendt, so she wouldn’t have to leave. The group’s letter was a success and gave her more time.
He Gave Her Time
The letter from Taylor’s neighbors got Berendt to rescind the order to vacate. Instead of evicting her, the landlord gave Taylor until June 30 to raise funds to buy the home. He asked for $250,000, but Taylor still couldn’t afford that.
Although she had the support of her neighborhood, Taylor said, “I could not sleep, I could not eat. I felt really defeated.” She didn’t have the money to buy the house and worried she wouldn’t be able to raise the money in time. However, Taylor was determined.
Not Something New
Taylor’s neighbor, Fahlstrom, happened to work as a housing rights organizer. He knew the right people to help get the word out about Taylor’s situation. Her story was not unique because the local housing market has skyrocketed in recent years, but everyone wanted to help her.
Fahlstrom said, “So many people are losing housing right now. If we actually believe housing is a right, then we need to act like it because the next stop is homelessness.” He had seen many situations like Taylor’s and didn’t want her to end up without a home.
Holding a Fundraiser
Word about the campaign to save Taylor’s home spread quickly throughout the community, and everyone was eager to help. Fahlstrom said, “People listened to what Miss Linda was saying and wanted to do something. It was such a clear and compelling story that everyone rallied for her.”
The Powderhorn Park community decided they would not let their neighbor be displaced, so they started raising money. Taylor hosted an art show, and the community shared a website where people could give donations. They were going to do whatever it took to keep Taylor.
She’s Like the Mayor
Taylor was known for keeping a little free library on her front lawn that always had plenty of books. She also did regular volunteer work around the community. Taylor joked, “They call me the mayor.” Her kindness motivated everyone to help with fundraising.
Community members organized fundraising efforts, including social media campaigns, a block party, and an art show. Local media coverage helped draw more attention to her story. The fundraising site brought in donations in amounts of $5 to $15,000, with the biggest donation coming from the local church.
Her Faith Grew
The local church donated $200,000, carrying the effort to the finish line. In just four months, the community raised $275,000 for Taylor, allowing her to buy her home and make repairs. The extra money went toward utility payments and other bills.
Taylor was overwhelmed by the support. She shared, “I knew my neighbors loved me, but I didn’t know how much. When it came through, my faith grew bigger than a mountain.” She didn’t know how to thank everyone who helped her reach her goal.
By May 31, a month before her landlord’s deadline, Taylor closed on her house. After nearly two decades, the place she called home finally belonged to her. Taylor was delighted, saying, “When it’s yours, it gives you a different feeling. I’m safe, I’m secure, and I have a home.”
Taylor had been fighting for so long to own her home, and it was surreal that the day finally came. She never imagined that everyone would pitch in to help her raise the money, but she wasn’t going to let their good deeds go unnoticed.
Thanking the Community
Taylor knew there was nothing she could do to repay everyone who helped her, but she wanted to keep giving back to the community that showed her so much love. She continued to host backyard barbecues, movie nights, and lemonade stands with her grandchildren.
Taylor is determined to pay the kindness forward. She received so much help during her time of need and said, “I’m here to help the next person and the next person and the next person.” They celebrated the neighborhood win with a huge block party.
A Valuable Lesson
Through this journey, Taylor said she learned a valuable lesson. The most important takeaway from her experience was how valuable neighborhood relations can be. She shared, “It’s good to know your neighbors. And that’s a sign of what’s happening today.”
The experience has made the whole community much closer and has provided people with a safe place to reach out when they need help. Community support is so important, and Taylor’s story is just one example of how everyone can come together to help others.