(NEW YORK) — The father of Lily, Sarah and Grace Badger, the three girls who died last year in a Christmas Day fire in their Connecticut home, has spoken publicly for the first time of his grief, his daughters and his glimmers of something positive coming from their deaths by drawing attention to a new fund he has launched in their memory.
The nation awoke to the news on Dec. 25 that three young girls had been killed along with their grandparents in their Stamford home. Investigators say hot fireplace embers — cleaned out of the fireplace because the girls worried about Santa, and discarded in the back of the house — sparked the blaze.
“There probably has not been a worse Christmas Day in the city of Stamford,” Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia said.
The girls’ mother, advertising executive Madonna Badger, and her boyfriend, Michael Borcina, the contractor on the house, were the only survivors. Madonna Badger is said still to be in deep isolated mourning.
Matthew Badger, the father of the three girls, has decided to turn the grief from his loss into something positive, and has launched the Lily, Sarah Grace Fund, which will offer money to elementary school teachers who incorporate the use of art — a passion his daughters shared — into their teaching. He hopes to draw attention to what will become a living monument to his girls.
Speaking publicly for the first time since their deaths, Badger recalled his last days with 9-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins Sarah and Gracie, and discussed his feelings at the time of the tragedy.
“I was with them for an entire week in my apartment,” Badger said, smiling when he thinks back. “It was dancing. We had our own Christmas tree and that photograph was when we had opened our presents they were all very happy.”
Badger said he often studies a snapshot from that final day with Lily, Sarah and Gracie, a day meant to be just one of so many more. He said that after the fire, he struggled to understand why this could happen to his girls.
“It was very difficult to see … Why did this happen? I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. And I’d just seen them the day before,” Badger told ABC News. “The experience … of memories about their lives has been one of … tears. And every time I open up my computer and look at pictures of them, I am moved.”
In the interview with ABC’s Claire Shipman for Good Morning America, Badger discussed how he has channeled his grief and memories of his girls into something tangible for others.
“It’s really hard,” he said. “People treat their grief in different ways. Either they head straight into the wind [or] some people hide behind a rock.
“I had a very hard time making sense of what life was,” he continued. “The instinct of a father for me was that I needed to love my children … and that love I channeled into the creation of the Lily Sarah Grace Fund. I need to try and make them have made a mark on the planet, and not have just died in vain.”
Badger said he was especially inspired by New York public school teacher Amie Schindel, who sent his daughter, Gracie, skipping to school each day. Schindel told ABC News of her fond memories of the girl.
“I remember having her like it was yesterday. She just kind of shined,” Schindel said.
Badger enlisted the help of kindred spirit Charles Best, whose innovative program, DonorsChoose.org, allows people to give money directly to schools.
“Many of the teacher requests are about incorporating art into science, or into math, or into English, and really making art a part of everybody’s education,” Best says.
Badger hopes that through the fund he is able to help others, but also keep his daughters’ memory alive.
“Ultimately, [my] healing will be when [I] walk into a classroom in the fall, and see one of those classes that is being funded by this monument that I’ve created for my children”, he said.
“And if we are able to do that, than Lily, Sarah and Grace have done it. They’ve done it. It’s beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
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