Neighbors touched by a fatal fire in Avondale Estates that killed a mother and daughter are showing an overabundance of support to the family and others affected by the tragedy.
Dave Willadsen lost his wife, 10-year-old daughter and his son was seriously injured when their "dream home" was engulfed in flames. The 5-year-old boy was in a medically induced coma at a local hospital Monday due to injuries from the fire.
"My family suffered a horrific loss beyond comprehension," Willadsen said Monday in an emailed statement about the deaths of his wife Tami and daughter Jess.
An online fund-raising effort at gofundme.com to raise $5,000 to help the family of Tami and Jess Willadsen, as well as other families impacted by the blaze had more than $44,000 in donations by Monday evening and was still growing. Neighbors set up fund to help the family and others impacted by the blaze.
"We're well connected like that," neighbor and family friend Sharonda Frazier told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. "When the name of the persons (killed) came out, it sent shockwaves through the neighborhood."
The cause of the fire remained under investigation late Monday, DeKalb fire Capt. Eric Jackson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Throughout the day on Monday, people stopped by the burned out shell of the lakeside home to leave mementos, flowers, cards and stuffed animals in a memorial.
Counselors were available Monday at the school to help fourth-graders and teachers who knew Jess, according to Channel 2 Action News. Memorial activities are planned at the school for later in the week.
Tami Willadsen was a fundraiser for several local charities, including the charter school her daughter attended.
Dave Willadsen suffered minor injuries, authorities said, and son, Jack, was at Grady Memorial Hospital for serious burns.
"We had 100 percent involvement and because of that, all crews were forced to fight the fire from outside," Jackson told Channel 2 Action News.
Neighbors told Channel 2 that the family had just moved into the home about 6 weeks ago, and had hosted a housewarming party Saturday night.
"It was their dream home," Frazier said. "He wanted to give them this beauty of living on the lake."
Jackson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday that the cause of the blaze, which caused radiant heat damage to the homes on either side, had not been determined.
Tami Willadsen, who last fall was named Director of Philanthropy for The Nature Conservancy in Georgia, also served as chairman of the board of EarthShare of Georgia and was the founding president of The Museum School Foundation. The Avondale Estates school is a DeKalb charter that opened in August 2010. She also chaired the current capital campaign at the school, where Jess attended classes.
Avondale Estates Mayor Ed Rieker Sunday afternoon issued a statement that said, in part, "Please be aware that tragedy has struck our community with the house fire that consumed 70 Lakeshore Drive on Saturday evening and damaged nearby homes. It saddens me deeply to inform you that two of our beloved neighbors perished and a third was seriously injured. There just are no words that can convey the sense of loss we are experiencing as a community."
Rieker recognized Jess' compassion for nature's creatures by erecting a "squirrel crossing" on her street, according to The City of Avondale Newsletter.
After noticing squirrels on her street being hit by cars, she wrote to Mayor Rieker last year and made the case for a 'Squirrel Crossing' sign to encourage drivers to slow down for squirrels and other animals, according to the newsletter. Jess even got 21 of her neighbors to sign a petition to support of her cause. Impressed, Rieker presented Jess with her very own 'Squirrel Crossing' sign for her front yard.
"Jess was such a selfless child," Frazier said. "She always wanted to make sure that others were taken care of. She (had) a motherly spirit."
Aspen Kron, chair of the The Museum School's governing board, released a statement Sunday night.
"We are devastated by the loss of our fourth-grade student, Jess Willadsen, and her mother, Tami. Jess was a bright, engaged student, and Tami served countless hours as founding president of The Museum School Foundation. Tami and Jess are a beloved part of our school community and will be missed," Kron said in the statement.
-- Staff photographer John Spink and staff reporter Helena Oliviero contributed to this story.