Suwanee Coach, Family Displaced by Fire, Embraced by Community

Lightning struck the Gwinnett home of Sharita and Duvall Braxton the night of their twins' birthday.

During a particularly bad thunderstorm on July 20, , a family of five, on Windsor Court in Snellville. 

It struck the roof just after midnight, causing an explosion loud enough to wake the neighbors.

“It was without a doubt the loudest thing I ever heard,” said Megan Goodman, a neighbor who lives across the street from the home. 

In the Nick of Time

A series of fortunate events kept the Braxtons safe; sadly, the same can’t be said of their home. 

They lost everything. 

The parents of Duvall Braxton, the father who also is a coach at, had just come into town an hour previous. They were scheduled to have been there four hours previous.

Because they were all still busy getting things settled and comfortable, they heard the lightning strike, and were alert enough to act quickly.

If his parents had arrived on time, they would all have been asleep, including the three children. 

The twins, Madison and Julian, turned three the day of the fire.  All their birthday preparations and gifts were lost.   The oldest child, Xavier, will be four in September. 

“The thunder was so bad,” said Sharita Braxton, mother of the family.  “We were listening for the kids because we thought they would get up.  When the lightning hit the house it was just this piercing pop.”

She looked outside and saw Goodman’s porch light on.  She assumed their house was the one that was hit. 

Soon, one of the dogs started barking like crazy.

“The little one never barks unless something is really wrong,” she said.     

Duvall’s mother smelled smoke -- when they opened the door to where the dogs were being kept, they were met with fire.

Duvall grabbed the dogs and the others scooped the children out of their beds.  They called 911 and firefighters arrived within five to seven minutes. 

By then, most of the house was in flames.  

Although firefighters put out the fire relatively quickly, it rekindled the next day and destroyed the home further.  

A Community Responds

Despite the devastating loss, the Braxtons seem calm and at peace.  The children are “little warriors,” according to their mother, and are handling everything very well. 

Sharita knows it could be a lot worse. She and her brother lost their father to a house fire on July 28 eighteen years ago. 

“So to us,” she said, “it’s just things  It’s a house.  [Duvall’s] parents, our children, everyone is safe and sound.  That’s all that’s important.”

Everything they held a sentimental attachment to, including Xavier’s Thomas the Tank Engine pillow that he cuddled with every night, is gone.  But, “you make new memories, you move on.”

The Braxtons moved to Snellville about six years ago.  Sharita works for Cigna Healthcare. Husband, Duvall is a football coach and teacher at North Gwinnett High School.

Both places have been extremely generous, according to both the Braxtons, and have donated clothing and time. 

All of the Braxtons’ family lives out of state, and aside from the casual nods and waves to fellow neighbors walking their dogs in the neighborhood, they did not have a strong connection with people in their subdivision. 

That all changed the week following the fire.

Megan Goodman and another neighbor, Jamee Bedingfield, created an online donation page for the family, while other neighbors brought gifts and clothes for the children.  Another neighbor is keeping their dogs. 

“We couldn’t have been in a better place and with better people,” said a tearful Sharita. 

As of Wednesday evening, over $1,300 has been donated to the family. 

Moving Forward

The Red Cross stepped up to the plate as soon as they heard of the fire.

“It was around 4 a.m.,” said Sharita, “and when they showed up, they had their uniform on and their name tags.  They were very thorough, very compassionate.”

They made such a strong impression on Sharita that she wants to volunteer her time with them once they are all settled. 

The Red Cross provided a place to stay at the InTown Suites through the weekend, along with emergency kits with razors, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes.  They also provided the children with little stuffed animals.

“My kids lost all their toys,” she said, “so that night my oldest son went to bed with his new stuffed animal, holding it like it was his Thomas the Train pillow.”

They will move into a small apartment on Tuesday until their home is rebuilt.  It will take around eight months, possibly longer.  

If you would like to contribute to the Braxtons’ fund, visit the webpage Goodman set up.  They could also use basic things like undergarments for the children and medicines.  Contact Megan Goodman at (678) 933-3698 for more ways to help.  


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