Gwinnett special education teacher’s rental home destroyed in fire during storms

A neighbor captured video of the flames shooting out from the top of the house after the lightning struck around 4:30 p.m.

A special education teacher at Lovin Elementary School in Lawrenceville lost everything Saturday when her rental home was destroyed by a lightning strike.

As severe weather rolled through much of metro Atlanta, lightning ignited a fire at Cat Kelly’s home, completely burning the house and all of her possessions. Kelly was out shopping at the time, and her two pets, a cat and a dog, escaped the blaze unharmed.

In video shared with Channel 2 Action News, a neighbor captured flames engulfing the roof of the house.

Kelly told Channel 2 that she doesn’t have renter’s insurance. Through the American Red Cross, she was able to book a hotel room for two nights at first, before extending that assistance through the week.

A friend and fellow teacher, Grace Gonzalez-Davidson, started a GoFundMe page for Kelly on Sunday with the goal of raising $2,000 to help the Gwinnett County teacher "get back on her feet." Just a day later, the fundraiser had gathered more than $6,500 in donations.

“Unfortunately, Cat does not have renter’s insurance due to financial strains,” Gonzalez-Davidson wrote in the GoFundMe description. “She needs to replace everything. Cat is in need of a place to live, first and foremost.”

Kelly’s financial situation was further complicated by the timing of the disaster. In a phone call with AJC.com, Gonzalez-Davidson explained that Gwinnett County teachers were only paid once at the beginning of each month, so Kelly would not get a paycheck until July 1 and did not have access to much cash.

Gonzalez-Davidson described Kelly as “a very kind and giving person who has dedicated her life to teaching students with special needs for more than 30 years.”

“Cat has been a real mentor to me,” Gonzalez-Davidson said. “She helped me when I had a tough year, so I felt like I needed to help her when all this happened.”

According to the GoFundMe page, Kelly has been with the Gwinnett County Public School system for the past eight years. The teachers will return to work for their planning period prior to the new school year in just two weeks.

“The response has been crazy,” Gonzalez-Davidson said. “We just wanted to help her get some basics, maybe raise enough for her to put a down payment on a new place. I think Cat has been a little overwhelmed.”

This story was first reported by Channel 2 Action News.

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