In Cedar Hill, Texas, officials responded to a house fire on Thursday, Feb. 28. Despite the efforts of emergency response teams, a local pastor, his wife, and one of their daughters were killed by the blaze. The couple’s other daughter survived but has been hospitalized for her injuries.
According to friends of the family, the pastor was Eugene Keahey, 52, and his wife was Deanna Wilson-Keahey, 51. Neither the local police nor the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office have identified the victims, but they have stated that they believe the house fire was not caused by a common source like a masonry or prefab fireplace, but that it was intentionally set.
Officials have not cited a reason for this belief and have not released information as to how the fire started. The state fire marshal’s office is assisting police in investigating the cause of the fire.
Police arrived at the scene at about 4:30 a.m., shortly after the fire broke out. They were able to rescue two people from a second-story window, but the three victims died at the scene.
The loss of the victims has hit the community hard. Eugene Keahey was a pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Sandbranch, a nearby unincorporated community in southeastern Dallas County. Keahey helped shine a light on this community in 2016. Sandbranch had gone decades with running water, but never received national attention or help for their plight until Keahey started a non-profit for the cause.
Keahey also helped the people of Sandbranch get the healthcare they sorely lacked. High blood pressure, diabetes, and work injuries are all too common in this impoverished community. While U.S. Dietary Guidelines state that eating at least two and a half cups of fruits and vegetables every day is linked to reducing one’s risk of cardiovascular disease, Sandbranch’s lack of clean water makes washing this important produce nearly impossible.
Further complicating matters, the nearest medical facility lies 35 miles away. As most residents do not have access to transportation, basic healthcare had transformed into a luxury for the community. In 2016, Keahey arranged a partnership with the nursing department at Texas Women’s University to provide health screenings for Sandbranch residents.
“In a city where there was no attention being brought to, he changed that. He changed Sandbranch,” said family friend Trisha Allen.
At the time of his death, Keahey was still fighting for the residents of Sandbranch. He was in the midst of a battle with Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who was indicted in 2014 on an array of corruption and bribery charges. Price was found not guilty on seven out of 11 charges in 2017.
“There are churches in Dallas County that won’t help us because [Price’s] political pull is strong. I don’t know what he has to gain from not helping us,” Keahey said about Price’s actions in 2016.
Despite the collaboration and communication Keahey demonstrated within his church and community, two qualities that are essential for professional success as their absence leads to over 85% of all workplace failures, the Keahey family was facing financial troubles themselves. Just last month their home was sold at a foreclosure auction.
The investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing, but neighbors told local station KXAS-TV that they heard what sounded like gunfire prior to the fire.