EMPIRE, Ala. (WIAT) – An Empire family returned from vacation to find that their home and been robbed and burned to the ground. “Burning it..they’ve taken things that we can’t replace,” explained homeowner Michelle Winchester. “I can buy a new TV, I can buy a new couch, but I can’t buy my kid’s baby clothes that they wore home from the hospital.”
The Winchester family was on the way back from Gulf Shores when they got a call from their pastor. “They told us that our house was on fire, and it had actually been on fire the first time at 5:00 am,” explained Winchester. “The fire department had come out and put the front of the house out and about 15, 20 minutes later they got called back. Whoever had set it on fire had come back and set the back of the house on fire.”
However that wasn’t the end of it. The family came to learn that their home had actually been ransacked and robbed before the fire was set. They reported that there were things like guns, electronics, and jewelry missing. The WInchester family said it was actually the third time that they had been robbed. They had been considering putting the house on the market because of the criminal activity in the area.
“It is crazy,” said Patrick Winchester, who is married to Michelle. “This area right where we are is pretty bad. At times, it almost seems like it’s just out of control.”
The Winchester’s have three children. Their daughter is only 12 years-old. They said that they never felt safe living in the home, but that they kept to themselves in hopes of avoiding trouble. They are currently staying with family members.
Michelle said that one of her biggest fears had always been losing her home in a fire–but more specifically, losing her photos. “I personally feel that God answered my prayers by at least protecting that portion of the house enough that I was able to recover most of my pictures,” she said. “Some are wet and I’ve been frantically trying to sort the and separate the, but most of them, thankfully, we were able to save.”
That’s about all the family was able to save. They are only able to wear the clothing that they took with them on the vacation.
No arrests have been made in the case, but the family is staying hopeful.
The Winchester family did not have insurance on the home. A friend of the family has set up a gofundme account to help with some of their expenses. The Winchester’s said they have already been overwhelmed by the number of people who have reached out–particularly to help with their young daughter who will be returning to school in the coming weeks.