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Fire, police investigators looking into 'suspicious' cause of fire at DIGS home

While stepping over dampened insulation and scorched drywall, Laura Casey surveyed what was left of the caregivers’ living quarters at the DIGS home after a fire tore through it early Saturday.

Casey looks after the four residents of the 30 Brook Valley Court home for adults with developmental challenges every other weekend. She described the scene of what officials are calling a “suspicious fire” with a sad tone.

“This is just about to make me physically sick,” she said. “It’s just hard to put into words that someone would just be so evil.”

According to Rome-Floyd County Fire Department Battalion Chief Gene Proctor, firefighters responded to the home around 3:30 a.m. Saturday and came across an active structure fire.

Charles Schroeder, president of the DIGS Inc. board, said the residents and caregivers were not in the house but were with their families for the weekend.

The fire was started in two separate areas of the house, according to Proctor — one in a bedroom and the other in the caregivers’ quarters on the opposite side of the home.

“That doesn’t happen unless it’s a suspicious fire,” he added.

The fire marshal and Rome police investigators are looking into what caused the fire, which Proctor said was the second in the last three weeks at the home to start in the early morning hours. The first incident occurred on Oct. 3 when pine straw landscaping around the house was lit on fire, damaging a portion of the exterior, he continued.

Proctor said an initial investigation appeared to reveal that someone made entry through the rear of the house and started the fire. The inside of the home was moderately damaged, specifically in the rooms where the blaze began, and Proctor estimated at least a three-month time slot for it to be livable again.

As the fire alarm continued to ring Saturday afternoon, Lamar Paul, who donated the property for the DIGS home three years ago with his late wife, Barbara Paul, moved across the blackened insides of his grandson’s residence. Paul said he raised his grandson, Michael Paul, since he was 7 months old and was trying to figure out what was next. His grandson has Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic disorder.

Paul said Michael would be staying with him at his adjacent residence until the house could be rehabbed, but it would be up to Developmental Disabilities Ministries of Georgia, who manages the home, to decide where other residents will stay.

Schroeder’s 33-year-old son, Corey Schroeder, also lives at the DIGS home, and his room was one of the points of origin for the fire. His personal items, from family pictures to clothes and his television, were melted into hardened drips.

“It’s just so unnerving to me that someone would go to this extreme,” Casey said while looking at what was left of Corey’s room. “It’s just got to be some sick minds.”

Most of Corey’s clothes were burned in the fire since he had only packed a weekend’s worth while he stayed with his parents.

His father said they would be going shopping this weekend, trying to replace Corey’s charred possessions.

 
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