After deaths of two children, she's taking life one step at a time
DANVILLE – Jennifer Booe takes life minute by minute since recovering from severe burns she suffered in a mobile home fire in January.
"I try to put my best face on and face the world," she said. "I've got to find a way to move on and deal with everything. It's hard."
The Jan. 5 blaze claimed the lives of two of Booe's young children, a 4-year-old twin, Arrison Booe, and 18-month-old Brayden Booe. The other twin, Addison Booe, was pulled from the fiery trailer by a passer-by, Terry O'Toole, who spotted the fire as he was driving along Illinois 1 that morning.
Two other adults, both relatives of Booe's, also survived the fire that started in the kitchen area of the mobile home at 121 Wisconsin Ave. in Westville. According to the investigation by the Vermilion County Sheriff's office, the fire probably started when the kids were playing with the stove.
Booe was transferred to Springfield Memorial Hospital's burn unit. She was released on Jan. 27 after skin grafts on her hands, arms, shoulders and back.
Of her 22 days in the hospital, she spent 15 in a drug-induced coma, she said, which kept her from fighting the respirator while her lungs healed.
"I kind of pushed myself to get myself home," said Booe, who's now living with her best friend in Attica, Ind., trying to get back on her feet. Her son, Addison, is living with her parents in Attica, who took him in after the fire while Booe was hospitalized.
Addison's "doing pretty good. He didn't get hurt, so his physical health has been fine. For a while, he had problems sleeping and had bad dreams," said Booe, who added that Addison will be getting some counseling. "He's doing a lot better."
Since the tragedy, Booe has formed a friendship with the O'Tooles – Terry and his wife, Claudia O'Toole, who also saw the fire.
Booe said Claudia O'Toole held her in the yard that day and kept her from running back in the mobile home a third time to look for her children. If it weren't for them, Booe said, she and her son, Addison, would both be dead.
"I had been in there twice. The condition I was in, if I went back in, I wouldn't have made it back out," said Booe, who added that it's important to her for people to know that she tried to save her children. The O'Tooles "were the only people who helped me. There were a lot of bystanders who stood and didn't do anything."
The O'Tooles have visited Booe and her son in Attica, and have met Booe's parents, too. They've all formed a friendship that they believe will last a long time.
"We've become like brother and sister," said Terry O'Toole, who went to the cemetery with Booe to visit the graves of her two sons.
O'Toole said that was a very emotional experience for both of them. O'Toole also took Booe back to the scene of the fire to retrieve Addison's bike.
Seeing the fire scene again wasn't nearly as difficult for Booe, who was in the hospital during her sons' funeral, as visiting the cemetery for the first time.
"It was really hard. I couldn't stay; couldn't say anything," she said. "It's not easy to see your kids' name on a plaque sticking out of the ground. I just stood there for a minute and couldn't handle it."
Booe, who was back in Vermilion County over the weekend visiting the O'Tooles, went back to the cemetery Sunday.
"It was a little bit easier for me" Sunday, she said.
The O'Tooles plan to be there for Booe and support her all they can.
"We love her to death, and we would do anything to help her," Terry O'Toole said.
Right now, Booe is going minute-by-minute and day-by-day, but she does think long-term. She's looking for work and an apartment and would like to move back to Vermilion County.
"I'm trying to get myself physically and mentally stable so Addison can come back to live with me. I'm not stable enough right now. I don't want him to see mom crying all the time," she said.