Woman's new anguish

Rebecca Sloan leaves her fire-damaged Venning Road house with Awendaw District Fire Department Battalion Chief Pete Rogers after salvaging a few items in the wake of the early morning blaze.

MOUNT PLEASANT — The home that once provided hope for Rebecca Sloan caught fire Friday morning, and while her 7-year-old grandson alerted her to the flames so they could escape, it seems they will need to start over with a new home yet again.

The modest one-story brick ranch, tucked back behind two other homes on Venning Road, was a gift in the wake of the wrenching saga of Sloan's daughter Perstephanie Simmons, who killed two of her children in a psychotic fury in Cainhoy more than eight years ago.

"We have some insurance, but never enough to cover everything that was lost," said the grandmother, who was being helped by the American Red Cross. Her daughter Melissa Walker-

Dushak is fielding calls of assistance as well.

The 61-year-old nursing assistant said she was still asleep when her grandson ran into her room and said, "House on fire!" just as the smoke detector went off. She went to the kitchen for the fire extinguisher, and also looked for the phone, but there was already too much smoke. The pair, who were the only ones living in the house, escaped out the front door into the frigid, dark morning.

"I had only my gown on, and he had his pajamas. No shoes. No socks."

They ran to the neighbors and got their attention within a couple of minutes. The emergency call went out at 6:50 a.m. Once the Awendaw and Mount Pleasant fire departments arrived, they contained the fire to the back half of the house, which included the boy's bedroom, the kitchen and a washing area, according to Awendaw Battalion Chief Peter Rogers. The front half of the house also had significant fire and water damage, he said, and while the family was able to retrieve a few items, the structure's a total loss, Rogers said. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

Rogers stressed the importance of smoke detectors as he talked to the media later in the morning and credited the boy with saving his grandmother's life. "Most children, statistics show, they run, they hide."

Sloan and her husband took custody of the boy after Simmons gave birth while in the care of the state mental hospital. Simmons suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was in the early months of her pregnancy at the time she killed her children Yusan, 3, and Ingrid, 10. A judge ruled Simmons was not guilty by reason of insanity, and there was an outcry by some when a request to move her to a less-restrictive group home was approved.

Simmons was released "sometime last year," has married and lives in the Columbia area, her mother said Friday, disclosing news that has not been made public. The S.C. Department of Mental Health would not verify Simmons' release, saying it cannot release information about its current or former clients.

Sloan also hoped to take custody of Simmons' oldest child, Amber, who witnessed the attacks at age 12. The grandmother ran into hurdles because the state Department of Social Services ruled that her original home on Venning Road was not in adequate condition for Amber, who is mentally disabled. The brick home that caught fire was a donation from nearby Christ Our King Catholic Church. United Methodist Relief paid for the demolition of Sloan's old home and for the brick house to be moved in its place.

Regardless, Amber never joined her grandmother, and while she is about to turn 20, has been placed in an adult-care facility through DSS, Sloan said.

Sloan and her husband divorced, and he died last year. Yet, through all of this, she has sought to provide some normalcy for her grandson, who plays sports and takes part in Cub Scouts. He always considered his grandparents to be his mother and father, and has not been told the details of how he came to live with them. "He does not know," his grandmother said.

Reach Susan Hill Smith at 937-5550 or ssmith@postandcourier.com.