Community raises $200K for 12-year-old who lost 3 family members in Athens fire

ATHENS, Ga. — Almost a week since a fire took the lives of three generations of one family, the young man who survived is getting the help he needs.

Taeden Johnson lost his mother, sister and grandmother in a tragic fire in Athens. The 12-year-old tried to go back into the trailer to save his family.

One of Johnson’s former mentors from school, Zac Hendrix, started a GoFundMe after receiving a call about what happened. Hendrix brought Taeden back to the home for the first time after the fire.

“Soon as we drove up, his face went wow, and that’s all he said,” Hendrix said.

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Hendrix has been helping Taeden and his family to raise money, supplies, and awareness through a GoFundMe page.

They never dreamed it would grow to where it is now: over $200,000 as of Tuesday afternoon. It’s enough to take care of expenses for Taeden and his half-sister.

“They can still go on and have their futures and go to school and whatever they want to do…they see it, the outpouring of love they’ve got,” Taeden’s other grandmother Brenda Ballard said.


Taeden’s grandmother Penny Fields, his mother Penny and 9-year-old sister Mariah were killed last Wednesday when their Athens trailer home caught on fire in the middle of the night.

Even with burns on his back and hands, Taeden escaped, ran to a neighbor’s for help and then tried to get back inside to save his family.

“He kept saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I just tried to get them out. I was trying to save them.’ Was the saddest thing I ever seen,” neighbor Al-Lynn Mayo told Channel 2. “I had to grab that baby and hold him and tell him, ‘You can’t go back in there.’”

The community has rallied to make sure Taeden isn’t alone. Hendrix even set up a Facetime call with former Georgia star Anthony Edwards. Last year’s No. 1 NBA draft pick heard about Taeden through social media.

Edwards also lost his mother and grandmother at the same age and shared advice with the young man.

“Look at my story, don’t quit. Give 110% in all you do and you can chase any dream. Something that can push you further and have god on your back and get through this together,” he told Taeden.

Edwards shared his number with Taeden and promised to keep in touch with his new friend every week. Taeden said he’s changing his jersey number to five, the same one Edwards wore playing for UGA.

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