When one girl lost four members of her family in a fire, her life would never be the same again. The blaze left the youngster with severe burns that covered 75 percent of her body. However, when a photograph of her asking for help went viral, strangers were able to put a smile back on her face.
In 2013 Safyre Terry was just like any other five-year-old. She lived with her family in the city of Schenectady, New York. As far as we know, she was happy. But that year an awful tragedy tore her whole world apart.
It was early one May morning when someone set fire to the family’s apartment. The blaze quickly enveloped the property. In doing so, it claimed the lives of Safyre’s dad David, sister Layah and brothers Michael and Donavan.
When firefighters arrived at the scene, they found the stay-at-home dad David shielding Safyre from the fire. She was clinging onto life beneath her father’s body in the ashes. Emergency crews rushed the child to hospital. However, no one believed that she would survive.
Safyre’s little body had suffered a catastrophic amount of damage in the blaze. As a result, it looked unlikely that she’d pull through. “Doctors were just making her comfortable until she passed away,” her aunt, Liz Dolder, told The Washington Post.
However, it seemed that everyone – including her doctors – had underestimated little Safyre’s strength. “She wanted to live,” Liz revealed. And, against all the odds, she did. However, she didn’t escape the blaze unscathed.
The deadly inferno left Safyre with severe burns across 75 percent of her body. She lost all of the skin on her face, her left foot and her right hand. However, we can only imagine it was the loss of four of her family members that the little girl struggled with most. Especially during the holidays.
In December 2015 Safyre was eight and gearing up for another Christmas without her dear daddy and three siblings. She was now living with her aunt Liz who tried her hardest to make the holidays special once more.
As a result, Liz went out and bought Safyre a Christmas card tree. The youngster helped her aunt assemble the item then waited to fill it up with well-wishes. “When we got our first Christmas card, she was so excited. It was just incredible,” Liz said.
Posting on her Facebook page, Liz revealed how Safyre had said, “I can’t wait to fill it all up.” But, wanting to manage the little girl’s expectations, she replied, “Honey, I don’t think we’re going to end up filling that.”
However, this little exchange got Liz thinking. If they could fill their Christmas card tree, perhaps Safyre would feel a little less alone over the festive season. So, family friend Kevin Clark took to Facebook with a challenge for all of his followers.
“I wonder how many of my friends would take the time to write and send Safyre a Merry Christmas card that she can hang on her card tree?” read his appeal. Beneath was a copy of Safyre’s address which accompanied a photograph of the young girl standing beside her tree smiling.
It didn’t take long for the Facebook post to take off. In a matter of days Safyre had received almost 50 cards in the post. Both she and her aunt were over the moon. But, that number continued to snowball in the coming days.
A week after Clark’s post, Safyre had collected over 18,000 cards, the vast majority of them from complete strangers. But the kindness didn’t stop there. On one single day, the family’s postmaster delivered an astonishing 185,000 cards, helping the little girl’s total reach 300,000.
Messages came in from around the globe. One little boy from China even sent Safyre one of his most-loved toys. “I am five years old,” his note explained. “I live in Hong Kong. This is my favourite teddy bear. Let’s be friends.”
The reaction to Safyre’s Christmas card campaign astonished Liz. “It’s so overwhelming,” she said in her interview with The Washington Post. “I’m crying buckets, because when you’ve seen the ugly in the world, and then you see the world come together for her, it’s just more than words can say. I’m so moved.”
It’s safe to say little Safyre knew more about struggle than most grown-ups. As of 2017, the culprit who started the blaze that killed her loved ones had not been found. One man was charged with federal arson in 2013, but the charges were dropped. Since then, four people – including Safyre’s mother, Jennica Duell – have been convicted of perjury in relation to the fatal fire.
But now, the little girl was finally experiencing the kindness of the world. According to Liz, she was completely “thrilled.” Her aunt added that she was “having a blast” opening and reading all the cards she’d received. And there were a lot.
By Christmas Day 2015, Safyre had collected more than one million cards. Some of them were sent from very important people indeed – including the president and first lady at the time, Barack and Michelle Obama. The reaction she’d received was beyond her wildest dreams.
But in the true spirit of Christmas, Safyre and her family decided to pay the generosity they experienced forward. They donated some of the cards, presents and money Safyre received to people in need in their area. So, the inspiring little girl who lost her family found herself millions of friends that Christmas. And for that, she’ll always be grateful.