By Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO It’s not very often that a large scale tragedy strikes a family twice.
In the case of the McCulloughs of Monticello who seem to be the exception to this rule tragedy has once again reared its ugly head.
In July 2007, Monticello native Shane McCullough, son to Leon and Wendy McCullough, was gunned down trying to save a stranger’s life from a crazed gunman under mysterious circumstances seven years after moving south to Florida.
Last month Shane’s sister, Tishanna McCullough, was instrumental in organizing the anti-violence march that weaved its way through the large village’s streets in a call to “Stop the Violence, Stop the Hate.
The very next day Mother’s Day, May 13 McCullough lost her childhood home to a fire that not only claimed the home, but all of the family’s belongings.
The family home was uninsured.
Tishanna’s mother Wendy, a native of Trinidad, moved to Sullivan County in 1974. Soon after, she met her husband Leon McCullough, and together they started a family that would come to include Shane, Corey and fraternal twins Tristain and Tishanna.
By 1979 the couple was moving into the now uninhabitable home they had built on a corner lot on Fairchild Place in Monticello.
“I raised all of my kids there… over the years I’d say more than 60 people have lived there too,” said Wendy of her penchant for taking in family and friends who’ve just needed a place to stay over the years.
“I’ve never turned anyone away from my door,” she added.
The fire’s cause is still under investigation, but the family believes it had something to do with the home’s electrical wiring.
“We need help… it’s all gone… our furniture, our clothing and lots of memories. We were left with nothing,” said a visibly shaken McCullough.
In the wee hours of that Sunday morning Wendy McCullough was awakened by the intense heat caused by the fast-moving fire. “It’s the heat that woke me up… everyone was in bed and myself being a diabetic, I’m sensitive to shifts in temperature,” said McCullough.
In the home at the time of the blaze were McCullough’s niece and nephew, her husband Leon, son Tristain and houseguest, Carlos Gandulla, and his dog, Brutus.
When recounting that morning, McCullough said, “I opened my bedroom door and all I saw was black smoke. I dropped to my knees and started crawling and feeling my way down the hall knocking on the other bedroom doors to get my niece and nephew up and out of there.
“I’m just so sad… I think I’m still in shock but the worst part is this depression,” added McCullough, who’s suffered from three comas related to her diabetes and is disabled. Her husband Leon is disabled as well, having been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
The family has been staying in two rooms at the Super 8 motel in Monticello since they lost their home. At $160 per night, the expense has quickly exhausted most of their savings.
“We have nowhere to cook our meals so we’ve been eating a lot of fast food… between feeding everyone and the cost of staying here, we’ve pretty much spent every penny we had,” Wendy noted.
The family had received some help from family and friends, as well as from agencies like the Red Cross and the United Way, but more is needed.
“The Red Cross put us up in this motel for the first week, but we’re still here and it’s just costing too much money,” explained McCullough. “The United Way gave us a $600 voucher to be used at Malek Furniture, but furniture is very expensive.”
In a show of kindness Kenny and Rose Presti of Presti Auction House in Glen Wild have offered the McCulloughs a deal. For $600 the Prestis will provide the family with a washer/dryer, a bedroom set and several other necessities.
But as McCullough puts it, “Where am I going to find $600 right now ? I think it’s an amazing deal, but we simply just don’t have the funds.”
“We need everything from furniture to clothing to beds and all the things people need to get by… most importantly, though, we need a place to live,” said McCullough. “Amazingly, one of the very few things to survive the fire undamaged was a portrait of Shane we kept on the mantle… I truly feel that he protected us that night.”