There can be few more chilling experiences than hearing your partner screaming from your baby’s bedroom. Which is why nobody could prepare this family for the shock and heartbreak that was to come after a heater malfunctioned in their upstairs bedroom. And when Keri Volmert heard the words “I think Sammie is dead,” she froze.
On February 28, 2016, Keri and Larry Volmert from Fort Worth, Texas, put their 17-month-old daughter to bed like it was any other night. She had cried a little bit, but as usual after a couple of minutes she was asleep. Unfortunately for this happy family, however, they were about to discover something terrible the next morning that would change their lives forever.
The married couple had set up a happy home with their two children Jackson, 3 and Sammie, 17 months. With everything in place, the four of them were leading an idyllic life. Keri would likely never have believed that something so awful was lying in store for them.
It was Larry, Sammie’s father, who made the hellish discovery on the fateful day. Larry had to endure something that no parent should ever have to. He walked in to find his princess’ lifeless body in her crib. “The desperation and screeching panic in my husband’s voice the next morning as he went to retrieve her from upstairs is something I’ll never forget,” Keri subsequently wrote on Facebook in April 2016.
In the family home, Sammie’s bedroom was on the second floor, while her mother and father slept in the master bedroom downstairs. Sammie’s big brother, Jackson, had been having difficulties sleeping, so he’d joined them downstairs in their bedroom.
The next morning, Larry climbed the stairs to fetch his daughter. But he quickly realized that something was wrong when he felt the heat. “As soon as I got to the top of the stairs, it was very warm – I mean, hot,” Larry told WFAA. But, tragically, it was too late for Sammie. “I ran to her room, opened her door and found her passed away,” Larry explained.
The temperature on the two floors of the house had been controlled by different systems. When the family went to bed that night, the thermostat for the second floor was set at 72° F. However, a malfunction in the coming hours would change the family’s lives forever.
By the following morning, the system’s error had allowed temperatures to sky-rocket, leaving fragile Sammie to sleep in a bedroom that heated to well above 100° F. Likening the effect to a sauna, Keri wrote, “The temperature registered 99 degrees on our thermostat, which was as high as it could go, meaning it was over 100 degrees.”
And despite attempts to resuscitate her, within less than an hour of Larry discovering her tiny body, Sammie was pronounced dead. The Tarrant County medical examiner subsequently recorded the cause of death as hyperthermia from an elevated body temperature. The bereaved parents, meanwhile, were left wondering why they never heard Sammie cry.
After doctors explained that Sammie had passed away in her sleep, the couple knew that their baby would not have been able to make a sound before her body failed. Further harrowing news came when doctors warned that due to his age, had Jackson been in his usual bedroom that night, he could have died, too.
“Young children cannot regulate their own body temperature and do not sweat as much as adults, which makes them more susceptible to overheating,” Dr. Todd Wolf, a pediatric emergency physician from Fort Worth, told the Star-Telegram.
Searching for an answer, Keri replayed the events of the night before. She’d let Sammie say goodnight to her Dad and then had taken her up to her bedroom. After cradling Sammie in her sleep sack, Keri had placed her daughter into her crib for what would be the last time. This sack was just one of the many ways in which Keri had endeavored to keep her baby safe.
In addition to keeping stuffed animals and pillows out of the crib, Keri had also ensured that her babies had breathing monitors up until the age of one. As a self-confessed worrier, Keri really thought that she had eliminated as many risks as possible. Sadly, though, there was one that risk nobody had predicted.
“Upon preparing to become a mother, I read multiple books and stories on possible dangers that could harm babies and toddlers,” Keri wrote. “I wish I had read once about this.” One warning, somewhere, about heating systems could have ensured that Keri had kept the breathing monitor or invested in a thermometer. Then, perhaps, everything could have been different.
Once they received the devastating news that Sammie’s death had been caused by a heating system malfunction, the Volmerts found a lawyer and began looking into legal action against the heater’s manufacturer. The family needed explanations. Their baby had died a similar death to those left for too long in hot cars – but had done so in the safety of her bedroom. And Keri felt like she had to take action.
Not long after the incident, Keri began spending her evenings researching similar events online. And that was when she decided to set up a Facebook page in memory of her daughter, called Remembering Sammie Joyce Volmert. Over the past year, the family have posted memorable stories, photos and videos of their princess as they remember her.
Moreover, this Facebook page had an even more important purpose. Keri’s aim is to spread Sammie’s story, in the hope that this heart-breaking series of events never happens to anybody else. The pinned message on Sammie’s Facebook page ends with a plea to share the post: “We want others (especially those with two-story homes) to hear Sammie’s story so that children can be protected and other families are spared from the horrific grief we are forced to endure each day.”
With more than 21,000 shares, Keri’s initial Facebook post has since gone viral. People have reached out to her family, expressing love and support as well as sharing their own stories. It has also become clear that Sammie’s page could potentially save lives, too.
Some of the nightmarish incidents that readers have shared with Keri seem as distressing as her own story. On top of numerous close shaves, Keri has heard about children turning blue and having to be thrown in the bathtub, as well as parents who have walked into bedrooms that are 90° F. One thing is for sure – Keri’s experience was not unique.
Devastatingly, though, nothing will bring Sammie back, and for this devastated family the nightmare will go on. “We miss her every second of the day,” Keri told WFAA. “There’s a very large hole in our family without her here.” The door to Sammie’s bedroom is now always open. Its white wooden crib still stands, with plush toys filling the room. “I can’t stand to see the door closed,” Keri explained to the Star-Telegram. “I don’t want to ever feel like we’ve forgotten about her.”