AN OPEN LETTER TO NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN
I am the grandfather of Hope (12) and Mackenzie (6). On June 26, 2010 they, together with four other children - Abbigayle Smith (1); Emilie Smith (3); Lewis "Carl" Smith III (7); and Paige Cox (8) - perished in a house fire in Fort Edward, NY. I am writing – as others have – because the circumstances surrounding this tragedy defy understanding.
When I was much younger – in college – I took a philosophy course. During one lesson, the Professor posed the question: Why does 2 + 2 = 4? We debated the issue for forty-five minutes without success. At the end of the class, the Professor offered the simplest possible answer: 2 + 2 = 4 because it has to. Everything – anything – else is chaos. That is how I view the official conclusions that following the investigation into the deaths of my grandchildren.
Please consider the following:
On the day of Hope and Mackenzie’s wake, their father, Lewis Carl Smith gave an interview with the media - (I believe it was Fox News but I am not sure.) – during which he credited Abbigayle's cries with waking him up. That was the moment when grief met incredulity. Before that I was content to hold my wife and cry, to comfort my daughter and to sit in the dark when alone remembering the smiles and giggles of two perfect children. That was the moment I realized that baby Abbigayle slept in the same room as her parents. Mr. Smith and Samantha Cox, her mother, escaped the building. Baby Abbigayle died in that bedroom. Consider that the first “2” in my equation.
Some months later, my daughter Florence, Hope and Mackenzie’s mother, stood by the side of the road protesting one of the many fundraisers involving Mr. Smith and Ms. Cox. This one was on fire safety. As she stood holding a placard for passing motorists to see, Carl Smith and Samantha Cox pulled up. Ms. Cox approached my daughter and asked if she understood how difficult it was to (a) know your child was dead and (b) leave her behind. Consider that the second “2” in the equation. I cannot imagine knowing or thinking or fearing or believing my child is dead and leaving her in a burning building. I can see leaving my keys, my wallet, my pants and my digital frame (one of my favorite purchases) but not my child. During the last two years, my wife has told me repeatedly that she would have left me behind but not the baby. Not only do I believe her, I understand completely. Life would be easier for me if I could finesse these two paragraphs and make 2 + 2 = 4. I cannot.
As an aside, the NYS Fire Report confirms that Baby Abbigayle died in their bed.
On June 26th, 2010, my eldest granddaughter (Samantha) turned 16. She wanted a beach party and I was in Roger’s Park in Bolton Landing hanging streamers and waiting for the DJ when the cell phone rang. Our celebration ended with a crudely written sign on a paper plate: “cancelled due to death in the family.” Two days later, Samantha cancelled her (6/28) trip with People to People. On June 23, 2012 Samantha will graduate from High School. She has asked us not to throw a big party. Instead of a gathering of friends and family and teachers, counselors and coaches, the people who shaped her life during the preceding twelve years, she has consented to a small BBQ to allow her family to congratulate her and send her off to college.
I sincerely doubt this letter will change anything. Conclusions are set and time marches on. I have come to the realization that I will mourn everyday for the rest of my life and, in the natural course of time, will go to my grave knowing that I could not do right by my grandchildren. Worse, the system failed Hope and Mackenzie as it failed Baby Abbigayle. Nothing will change that. Perhaps the only purpose of this letter is to let another human being know that.
Thank you for listening.