By Melissa Dunson
NEVADA, Mo. — As Kadessa Shadden, 13, raced down the long, gravel driveway on foot, past the rows of darkened trees, the flames leaping from her Nevada-area home lighted the way.
She reached the highway with little brother Braxton, 9, in tow. She had pulled him from the burning house only moments before. But her two younger sisters, Amanda, 11, and Coleen, 5, were still in the house, huddled together in the bathtub. Kadessa had gone in two more times to look for them, but the smoke was too thick. She would later tell investigators that she could hear their screams inside.
Kadessa was looking for help.
The voice of Ronnie Shadden, the children’s father, cracked with emotion for just a moment Thursday afternoon as he recounted the part about the bathtub. Shadden, an Arma, Kan., resident, had put together, from Kadessa’s narrative and Vernon County sheriff reports, the pieces of the fire early Wednesday morning that destroyed Cheryl and Darren Dennison’s home, and killed Amanda and Coleen.
Shadden said that when firefighting crews finally reached the house, they found Amanda holding Coleen in the bathtub. Shadden said Amanda’s body took the brunt of the fire, preserving Coleen’s body.
“She took the pain for her,” Shadden said.
Sheriff Ron Peckman said a state fire investigator is looking at ruling the cause of the fire as undetermined, but he said it was possible that the fireplace was partly to blame. The fireplace was serving as the sole source of heat for the house on U.S. Highway 54 near County Road 1700 the night of the fire.
Peckman said the children’s mother, Cheryl Dennison, left for work at the 3M Co. plant in Nevada about 10:40 p.m. Tuesday.
“She had stoked up the fire then,” Peckman said.
Darren Dennison, the children’s stepfather, also was at work when the fire started.
The sheriff said Thursday that there was a smoke alarm in the house, and Shadden said that is what woke Kadessa up that night.
The sheriff corrected information he provided the Globe on Wednesday that a 15-year-old boy had rescued his 9-year-old brother but was unable to save his sisters. He said there is no 15-year-old boy in the family. The sheriff said it was 13-year-old Kadessa who was sleeping in her parents’ bedroom and awoke to smoke.
He said she at first ran out of the house to get some air, then re-entered and retrieved her sleeping brother, Braxton. They had to crawl out because of the heavy smoke. She tried to go back in a couple of more times for her sisters, but she was unable to reach them.
She and the boy finally ran down their driveway to the highway, hoping to stop someone for help. Unable to get anyone to stop, they made their way to the nearest neighbor’s house, which is about a quarter-mile away, and a call was placed to 911 at 2:22 a.m.
‘It speaks volumes’
Kadessa was the ultimate big sister, said Shadden, who works at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University. The Nevada Middle School student took her responsibility of caring for her siblings seriously, and Shadden said she remained cool-headed in moments of crisis.
“She is an awesome sister,” Shadden said. “She doesn’t just worry about herself and her friends. She is always making sure the family is taken care of.”
Amanda played volleyball and basketball, sang in choir, and was active in her church in Arma. She also was in middle school. Shadden said Amanda sometimes worked for a woman diagnosed with cancer in Arma, then took the money she made and bought presents for Coleen.
“She always made everyone’s day,” said Briana Householder, 15, a Nevada Middle School student, of her friend Amanda. “I don’t ever remember seeing her down. She was someone I could be myself around.”
Braxton just started playing football this year. He’s fast, his father said, and he loves sports. But he would always take time away from his footballs and toy cars to play with Coleen.
Coleen managed to capture hearts and the spotlight wherever she went. She was in preschool and helped teach other preschoolers through the peer model program. She already knew how to do math and was learning to read.
Shadden said Coleen knew every song on the radio and had dreams of becoming a cheerleader.
“She wasn’t 5 (years old),” he said. “To her (Coleen), she was 25.”
Chris Hendren, a friend of the family, said the tears from teachers and students at the middle school and the preschool speak of the hole the deaths of Amanda and Coleen will leave in the Nevada community.
“Kids speak volumes, and when the kids in the community just come home bawling, it speaks volumes about what kind of people they are,” Hendren said.
David Stephens, Nevada R-5 superintendent, said the school district had 11 counselors in the schools Wednesday and Thursday, and more than 30 students districtwide left school after the deaths were announced.
He said teachers are rearranging their classrooms to remove Amanda’s and Coleen’s empty desks, and anticipating that healing will take some time.
Shadden said if there’s one good thing that could come out of his daughters’ deaths, he hopes parents will cherish the time with their children and not take their families for granted.
“You never know when you might wake up one day and be without one or two of them,” he said.
Staff writer Jeff Lehr and Metro Editor Andy Ostmeyer contributed to this report.
How you can help
The Red Cross is providing assistance with shelter, food, coats, clothing and shoes, but funds have been established for the family. Contributions may be made to the Shadden Family Fund in care of Ferry Funeral Home, 301 S. Washington St., Nevada, MO 64772. Monetary donations also may be made to Metz Banking Co., P.O. Box 590, Nevada, MO 64772, or dropped off at the bank at 123 N. Osage St. The Shadden Memorial Fund has been set up through the Pittsburg State University Foundation at 401 E. Ford St., Pittsburg, KS 66762.
Services for Amanda and Coleen Shadden will be at 1:30 p.m. Monday at Ferry Funeral Home, 301 S. Washington, Nevada. Burial will be in Moore Cemetery in Nevada. The family will receive friends from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the funeral home.
By Melissa Dunson
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