By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY — Two toddlers — barely taller than the sign they held — carried the message that summed up the feelings of the more than 100 people who gathered inside the Griffin Recreation Center in New Albany on Saturday.
“Welcome home, our surviving angel,” read the sign, just one of the many displays of affection the community showed for Taty’ana Hughes, 5, who was released from an Indianapolis hospital Friday after sustaining severe injuries during a January house fire.
The blaze ravaged the Ealy Street home Taty’ana was spending the night in, and claimed the lives of her three siblings, Trinity, Tyrese and Tai’zah.
Arrests have been made and a triple murder trial is pending, but Saturday’s homecoming was about celebrating the bright spot in the midst of the epic tragedy — Taty’ana’s survival and hopeful full recovery.
“Without you all, we could not have done any of this. We still have a ways to go, but we just thank you,” said an emotional Theresa Hughes, Taty’ana’s grandmother, who has spent much of the past two months between Indianapolis and New Albany, visiting her surviving grandchild while mourning the loss of her other grandchildren.
Residents, firefighters and police officers surrounded the family inside the gymnasium of the Griffin Center as Hughes thanked the community for its support.
The morning started in front of the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library, as a short procession was held with Taty’ana receiving a ride to the Griffin Center inside a fire truck.
The loudest roar sounded when New Albany Fire Department Sgt. Bob Hannon was embraced by the family and recognized for his part in saving Taty’ana’s life.
It was Hannon who pulled her from the burning house, and the firefighter hadn’t seen Taty’ana since that cruel day.
“Thank you for carrying our baby to safety. Thank you so much,” Theresa Hughes said to Hannon, who was handed a letter and given a hug by Taty’ana as members of the crowd clapped their hands and whistled with approval.
After the ceremony, Hannon told reporters that it was emotional yet encouraging to witness Taty’ana “in a completely different circumstance” than when he’d last seen her.
“It makes you feel good” to see her recovering, he said.
Hannon carried Taty’ana to safety, but he was quick to give credit to his fellow firefighters for their actions at the scene.
“The rest of my shift, the rest of my crew, did an excellent job,” Hannon said.
Taty’ana’s homecoming lifted the spirits of so many who are still reeling from the loss of the three children, NAFD Chief Matt Juliot said.
“It’s a tragedy that affected so many people — so many families are hurt from what happened — so it’s nice to see her come home,” Juliot said, as he added firefighters join the department because they want to help people and save lives. “That’s what we do.”
Cody Cashion, 18, has been charged with three counts of murder and arson stemming from the Jan. 4 fire. The New Albany Police Department and Floyd County prosecutors alleged that Cashion ignited the fire by shooting a flare gun into the Ealy Street home in retaliation for being robbed by Jonathan Stewart, who lived in the house but wasn’t home the night the fire was set.
A jury trial for Cashion has been slated for July 7.