Vance Russell, his wife Tabitha, daughter Precious and their friend Kasey Neidlinger sit with Bandit, who alerted the family to a fire that ravaged the home they'd lived in for three years Christmas morning. The Russells have temporary shelter and have been receiving help from area church groups, friends and strangers. (Daily Star Photo/JESSICA SIEFF)
Vance Russell, his wife Tabitha, daughter Precious and their friend Kasey Neidlinger sit with Bandit, who alerted the family to a fire that ravaged the home they'd lived in for three years Christmas morning. The Russells have temporary shelter and have been receiving help from area church groups, friends and strangers. (Daily Star Photo/JESSICA SIEFF)

Archived Story

Out of the fire with the utmost faith

Published 10:23am Tuesday, December 29, 2009

By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star

With a small sweater wrapped around his neck, Bandit breathes heavily while he sleeps in the corner of a small couch.

The pug and his family have had a very trying week.

Bandit belongs to Tabitha and Vance Russell. The Niles couple, their daughter Precious, 9, and friends Kasey Neidlinger and John Matarazzo were awakened Christmas morning by the dog’s incessant barking – something he only does when someone is outside, Vance said.

When he went out into the living room and kitchen area of the home to find out what had caught Bandit’s attention, Russell said he saw flames outside the window.

“I heard something hit the house,” he said, banging his fist against a coffee table to illustrate.
Immediately Vance called out to his family, Matarazzo and Neidlinger who have been living with them for some time and told them to get out of the house.

“I said, ‘What? A fire?’” Tabitha recalled.

“We got up and went out the front door,” Neidlinger said. “And there was fire outside the front door.”
The family had to escape the house through the back door.

“By the time we got around there, the cars were already destroyed,” Russell said.

The Russells, Neidlinger and Matarazzo got out with their lives on Friday, as did Bandit – but their four month old puppy, lovingly called Baby Girl, was lost. Her body was later found behind the couch, Tabitha believes she died of smoke inhalation.

They lost all of their possessions in Friday’s fire, both of the Russell’s vehicles were destroyed and Neidlinger said the front end of her vehicle had been melted.

Russell said just the day before, on Dec. 23, his and Tabitha’s grandchildren had stayed the night at the house for their own holiday celebration – a total of 18 people.

Now, the family is staying in a small duplex just down the road and around the corner from where the charred remains of their home sit underneath a fresh dusting of snow. It was offered to them for a place to sleep. But the family knows they’ll have to leave soon. The Russells had bought and paid for their home, on which there was no insurance. They will have to find a new place to live, though that is not without its challenges. The couple just got their hands on a cell phone and though they have an idea of a few places to look for a new home, they have no transportation, not even a phone book to look up numbers to call.

Having escaped in only their pajamas, the family was utterly without. Since the fire however, their church – Michiana Christian Embassy – as well as other area churches, friends, neighbors and strangers have reached out to help. The church brought tubs of clothing and other necessities to the family and they were given gift cards to Wal-Mart where they were able to buy food and other items.
Until early afternoon Monday, when a neighbor stopped by with a small frying pan – the family has been eating mostly lunchmeat and microwaveable foods, Neidlinger said, because they’d had no pans to cook in.

Though surrounded by evidence of loss, the Russells keep an open heart, finding comfort in the good will of their church and other churches, friends, family and strangers – all willing to help out in any way that they can.

And there’s their faith in God.

“We put our trust in him,” Russell said.

Neidlinger feels the same. Calling the Russells the “best friends we have,” she credits them with getting her involved in the church as well.

With so many unanswered questions and an uncertain future, the Russells and their friends are keeping the faith.

“God always brings good out of a bad situation,” Vance said.

Anyone wishing to help the Russell family can contact them at (269) 240-6452.

By using this website’s user-contribution features, including comments, photo galleries, or any other feature, you agree to abide by the terms of use. Please read this agreement in its entirety because it contains useful information that will help you better understand the rules and general "good manners" that are expected when contributing content to this website.

Editor's Picks