Johnny Lee Adams' house in DeKalb County was filled with family when it caught fire Sunday morning.
The 80-year-old grandfather would not leave until everyone got out. He and his oldest son, Antonio Adams, were the last ones inside.
"My 80-year-old father helped my 50-year-old brother up to the window in the bathroom, threw him out the window and said, ‘Go, I'm right behind you,'" another son, Rico Adams, told the AJC Monday. "But he wasn't. He's 80 and he went back to check.
"My brother did everything he could. He went back three or four times. He got hospitalized with smoke inhalation. He could barely breathe, but he didn't give up either," Adams continued. "So I'm proud of my brother. He's definitely a hero to me. My father saved everyone. He [Antonio] tried to save my father."
Johnny Lee Adams, a retired MARTA bus driver and U.S. Air Force veteran who received a Purple Heart, died in the 8 a.m. fire on Bressler Circle, near Snapfinger Road and I-285.
Everyone else -- his wife, two of his five children and several grandchildren -- escaped.
Fire officials have not determined what caused the fire, which destroyed the split-level home.
Rico Adams said his father's actions did not surprise him.
"That's just the way he was," Rico Adams said. "He felt like it's his house so he had to make sure everybody got out. Because I'm sure he would have died from remorse or guilt if anyone was in there and he was out here safe. It didn't surprise me, but I just wish he had come on out."
Family members gathered at Johnny Lee and Anne Adams' house every weekend. Johnny Lee Adams would play with his grandchildren, cook for them; he rarely sat down, Rico Adams said.
"I never looked at my father as an 80-year-old man. He just didn't look it, didn't act it," he said.
Longtime family friend Harriett Stready described Johnny Lee Adams as a funny guy who was "never sad, never down."
"He was an only child so he loved his family very much," she said. "Loved his children and grandchildren, that's what he lived for. He said that's what made him happy."
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