Chaundra Lee walked out of her Louisville home Sunday afternoon for the first time since Christmas Day, when a fire destroyed nearly everything inside.
Stepping over broken glass and ashes littered across her porch, Lee carried with her one of her few possessions that hadn’t been ruined by the flames: a poster of Breonna Taylor.
Lee, 41, is known for providing free food to the thousands of protesters who’ve taken to the streets this year calling for justice for Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman who was shot and killed by police in her apartment on March 13. On Christmas, Lee had been “house-hopping” to see family before receiving a text that night and learning of the fire at her own home.
“It wasn’t real. I don’t know, I just sat there in silence for a long time,” she recalled as she stood in front of the home Sunday.
Lee said she hadn’t been able to make herself go into the house until then, when she walked through slowly alongside friends she’s made at the demonstrations. As she surveyed the damage for the first time, Lee said she felt glad she and her kids hadn’t been home at the time.
Lee said she doesn’t know anything about what caused the fire but remembered being asked by investigators if she had a fight with anyone recently.
A spokesman for the Louisville Fire Department did not immediately respond to an email sent Sunday afternoon requesting details about the status of the investigation.
Tara Bassett, an independent journalist who livestreams footage of the demonstrations over Taylor’s death and a friend of Lee’s, said there was no one less deserving of such a tragedy.
“This woman is one of my sisters, and we’ve been together for what, 215 days,” Bassett said as she held an arm around Lee, referring to the number of days protesters have been demanding justice for Taylor. “We kind of live as a family, you know, we all take care of ourselves.”
Emanuel Mitchell, a friend of Lee’s who lived in her home for a period of time this year, said he got a call from a family member Friday night about the fire and rushed over to see multiple fire trucks and the entire rear of the house in flames.
“I sat right here watching this house burn to the ground, and I couldn’t throw a cup of water on it to put it out … It’s sad,” Mitchell said.
Lee, who’s staying in a hotel while she looks for a new home, set up a GoFundMe to help recuperate her losses.
“I hate asking for any help, but right now I’m in desperate need,” she wrote on the fundraising website. “I’ve lost everything I owned in this house tonight.”
Lee said she didn’t have renters’ insurance and would accept any help people could offer. In addition to contributing to the GoFundMe, Bassett suggested donating gift cards and clothes for her kids.
The GoFundMe had raised $7,305 from nearly 100 contributors by early Sunday evening.
“Just two years ago I was homeless,” Lee said through tears. “Me and my kids was on the street, and now here I am. … This is really messed up.”
*story by The Courier-Journal