Toya Graham, the mother who became famous when she pulled her son away from the riots, talks about a recent kitchen fire in her house that has displaced her family. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)
Update: Graham's GoFundMe page, which had a goal of $5,000, has raised over $26,000 from more than 750 people as of late Wednesday morning.
Toya Graham was in the middle of working a double shift Saturday when she got a frantic Face Time call from her 18-year-old daughter, Teiyona, telling her that their Druid Hill Avenue home was on fire.
"She called me hollering that the house was on fire. The house was on fire," said Graham, who is widely known as the "hero mom" who snatched her son out of unrest after the death last year of Freddie Gray.
Graham told her employer and rushed out the door to get home. She avoided getting into a car accident rushing to get to the three-story home she and her family have inhabited since April.
"When I got there, there were five fire trucks, an ambulance and police," she recalled. "I could see them [firemen] through the third-floor window. They were throwing stuff out the back window. It was a mess."
No one was hurt. But Graham, five children and a granddaughter are displaced, staying at a hotel on Route 40. The kitchen was damaged, and they are waiting on a contractor to do work and utilities to restore electric service.
It is another turn in the roller coaster that has been Graham's life since being thrust into the public eye April 27, 2015 when she was videotaped confronting her son, Michael Singleton, with a series of slaps — just as he was poised to throw rocks at police officers by Mondawmin Mall. It was one of the most talked-about images from the unrest related to Gray, the 25-year-old man who died as a result of injuries sustained while in police custody.
After the clip aired, Graham appeared on every major news network. She rubbed shoulders with celebrities. Oprah Winfrey called her with words of encouragement. She even got her certified medication technician license late last year and got two jobs working more than 80 hours a week in assisted-living homes in the city. She moved into a larger home. Michael was accepted to the Job Corps.
But there were also several missteps. A business relationship with a manager fizzled. Several television appearances fell through. She lost one of her jobs. And a few months later, Graham found herself essentially in the same position of trying to make ends meet.
Saturday's fire has been the latest setback for her.
Michael, now 17, was home making a dish he had prepared a multitude of times — chicken tenders. He stepped away to use the bathroom when the fire started.
"I came in the kitchen and it was real smoky from the pan," he said. "Then there were flames coming from the pot. I grabbed a jug of water and threw it on the grease. And it started bursting out in more flames."
Michael immediately tried to notify his neighbors and called the fire department.
"I could never grab it because the flames were too big," he lamented.
"I saw him sitting on the steps. He looked like he felt bad," she said. "I asked him 'What happened? What happened? What happened?'"
Michael, who had recently returned home after a stint with Job Corps, said his mother has been supportive of him throughout the whole ordeal.
"I told her that I was sorry for what happened," he said. "She was just like scared for me. She was making sure that I was OK. She wanted to know what was going on."
Graham, Michael, her four daughters and a granddaughter are staying at a hotel on Route 40 while everything is being worked out with the house.
The family said they have been praying daily so that their landlord allows them to move back into the home, which Graham said needs to be inspected by a contractor before BGE can come back in and turn on the electricity. Although the fire was contained to the kitchen and part of the first floor, the rest of the home has suffered extensive smoke damage, according to Graham.
Her landlord could not be immediately reached for comment. A call to the Baltimore City Fire Department was also not immediately returned.
"I haven't had communication with [the landlord] since the fire. He was very upset," said Graham, who did not have renter's insurance. "He built that kitchen from the ground up. He spent a lot of money on the kitchen. There were new appliances and everything. Now it's all gone."
The family has established a GoFundMe page. The American Red Cross has provided them with money for the family to live in two hotel rooms while they wait to learn the fate of their home. Graham has continued to work double shifts as a caregiver at a Roland Park assisted living home.
"I'm tired," she said shortly after completing a double shift Tuesday morning. "I'm exhausted. At this point I don't know if I have a home."
Michael said the family continues to keep the faith.
"We don't know what's going to happen," he said. "We have been praying a lot that we will have a home and that we will be all right and that everything will be fixed."