Clay foster parents recall trying to rescue children while house was on fire

Katie, her brother and the five foster children, Adrianna, Lexi, Cierra, Wyatt and a 2-year old boy. (Courtesy: Katie/Trevor Neff)

Saturday marks one week since four children were tragically killed in a house fire in Clay County. The foster parents are speaking out about the fire and heartbreak they have experienced.

Katie Ramsey-Neff and Trevor Neff said just a week ago they remember playing with their five foster children in the home of their dreams located in 600 block of Main Street in Clay.

"They were playing with slime," Katie Ramsey-Neff said. "They got it stuck to my ceiling,"

Ramsey-Neff married her husband two years ago and dreamed of having a large family, but due to medical issues, they couldn't have any of their own. They decided to foster and one day hope to adopt.

The couple moved into their home in February 2018 and started fostering in May.

"That was home, them babies made it feel like home," said Ramsey-Neff with tears in her eyes .

The Neffs said they were blessed to foster 8-year-old Adrianna, 4-year-old Lexi, 3-year-old Cierra, 6-month-old Wyatt and a 2-year-old boy who survived and is currently in another foster home.

The fire broke out after 11 p.m. Jan. 12. Ramsey-Neff recalled being jolted awake by her husband. She was asleep on the couch and woke to the room filled with heavy smoke.

Ramsey-Neff said she ran to her bedroom located on the first floor.

"There is fire all up the wall, and I run to the kitchen to get the fire. When I come back, the fire is all over the ceiling," Ramsey said.

Ramsey-Neff recalled those unimaginable moments of trying to get to the four children upstairs, but the fire stopping her. She said during those moments, she can't remember hearing anything, just screaming the children's names and frantically searching for them.

The Neffs, her brother along with a neighbor, Travis Woods, broke windows outside on the balcony and attempted to rescue the children among the smoke and flames.

"I know people keep saying what they would have done different. Honestly, we tried our hardest with those kids because they were my life," Ramsey-Neff said.

The couple said their home was filled with about 10 smoke alarms, two carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers and they had a fire plan, which they practiced numerous times with the children.

Ramsey-Neff said since the fire, she has learned why her extinguisher wasn't working and wants others to check to be aware.

"There is a white plastic piece that holds this right here in, and if you don't take that off you can't pull that pin whatsoever. I was squeezing and pointing the hose, but then I was like the pin, but I couldn't get the pin out," she said.

The Neffs home, which once was filled with laughter and love, is now left in ruins and still smells of fire. The couple says they don't plan to rebuild there.

"A whole lot of us is still there," Trevor Neff said.

The couple instead wants to turn that land into a park in the children's memory, and for other families in Child Protective Services' care to use. The Neffs said that the Clay house located near their burned down home is owned by the Department of Health and Human Resources and is a place where biological parents get to visit their children for several hours while in foster care.

Ramsey-Neff said half of it "will be for the foster kids and the other half would be a picnic table for loved ones because it has affected a lot of teachers, friends family and they can go there and mourn."

The Neffs said while it's all in the planning stages, they hope to use donations for the project and already have a name in mind.

"The name is kind of silly, but Unicorn Land," Ramsey-Neff said.

Trevor Neff said the name does have a connection.

"Because the girls were crazy about those unicorns," he said.

The couple said they hope to foster again when the time is right and are taking things day by day right now.

"I know they are little angels and are up there singing," Ramsey-Neff said.

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