My 19-year-old son died in an arson fire set in the hall of his dorm at Murray State University in 1998. Michael was a gifted musician and broadcast journalism student with a 3.9 GPA. He also had an autism spectrum disorder. He had issues with remembering and organizing and also had some spatial deficits. He was very safety conscious and would unplug his lamps at night.
Four days before his death, he escaped a fire set in the same dorm by crawling out on his hands and knees. But on September 18, 1998, he died in the doorway of his room of smoke and soot inhalation from a second fire, even though he had stuffed towels under his door. We found out later that his room was not up to the fire code and that smoke had entered both under and over the door. Fourteen other people were injured.
After Michael’s death, I helped get legislation passed in Kentucky that requires colleges to report campus crimes and ongoing threats on a timely basis and to alert fire authorities about any fire. I also started a foundation to raise awareness and standards of campus fire safety.
I can’t save Michael, but I can do what I can to minimize the risk for other young people. This gives me some sense of healing. They’re not my children, but they’re someone’s children. This is what Michael would expect his mom to do.