The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 22, 2012

Thieves steal Christmas presents after fire renders Galena family homeless

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer

GALENA, Kan. — It started in an electrical panel in the garage — a late-night fire that would displace a family of six and render them homeless for the holidays. But then a scrooge stole the family’s Christmas presents meant for the youngest member, which left the family wondering who could do such a thing.

“You know, when you say it can’t get any worse, it really can,” said Jodi Gowens, of Galena.

She was living at the home of her father, Jim Bowman, when a fire broke out just after 1 a.m. on Nov. 6. By the time firefighters from Galena and Baxter Springs arrived on scene, the fire already had burned through the roof on the west end of the house.

“We basically lost everything,” Gowens said. Other residents of the home included Bowman’s girlfriend, Sue George, Gowens’ daughter and son-in-law, Alicia and Aaron Maize, and their son, Dylan, 5.

The family dispersed to the homes of friends and relatives that night, then took up lodging at the Baymont Inn & Suites in Joplin, where they remained last week while they waited for insurance to be completed.

But it’s Dylan they worry about most. The kindergartner not only lost his home, his mother said, but after the fire, someone broke into the family’s mini-storage on West Seventh Street and stole Christmas presents they had purchased for Dylan and hidden there.

“I had two big boxes worth of things I’d put in there for him, things I had ordered online,” Alicia Maize said. “I just can’t believe it.”

“And my grandpa had been saving model cars that were still in their boxes there that I wanted my son to have, because they would be worth money later,” Maize said. “But they even dug through and took those.”

To compound their heartbreak, Maize said, someone broke into the remains of their home and stole possessions that they had not yet salvaged, including her son’s piggy bank and mementos her father had given her.

The family said the thief also made off with a collection of stamps and coins that Bowman had collected during his naval service around the world. Reports were filed with the Galena Police Department, but as of last week there was no new information in the case.

“Who goes into a burnt house and takes stuff?” Maize said.

It’s also been a challenge to find a home.

The Maize family has learned they are $2,000 short of being able to complete an owner-finance deal on a Galena home. They are attempting to get a loan to cover the difference.

“It’s a day-to-day thing, just a holding pattern,” Maize said. “We’re trying to figure it out, but at this point we’re not sure.”

She hopes they are able to get out of the hotel before Christmas.

“My son has been through too much to have to spend Christmas in a hotel,” she said. She said she is proud that despite their setbacks, her son earned a student of the month award at Spring Grove Primary School in Galena.

Gowens said that despite the fire and the thefts, the family is thankful for what they have left: each other.

“I’m just thankful we’re all here and OK,” Gowens said. “And the people at the Baymont have been so nice to us; they’ve treated us like family. They’ve been a blessing in all this.”

Significant damage

“They had a lot of damage; it was burning quite a few minutes before it was noticed,” said Galena fire Chief Bill Hall. The fire departments were on scene for two to three hours, Hall said. The structure had significant fire, smoke and water damage.