Family rebuilds home that was scene of fatal fire
Ophelia Shepard, surrounded by her family in this photo, perished in the arson fire at her daughter Elmira Blanks' home.
On Feb., 11 2011 Toby Beasley kicked in the door of Blanks’ home in the 600 block of Mockingbird Lane and poured a flammable liquid on the floor before setting it ablaze. Shepard, who was a double amputee, was unable to escape.
It was reported by the authorities that Beasley had a dispute over drugs with Blanks’ son and set the fire in retaliation for non-payment. Beasley is currently serving 40 years for Shepard’s murder.
Following the incident, the home where Blanks lived the majority of her life was razed to the ground. The home held plenty of memories for Blanks. She raised her two children there and it’s also where she helped care for her mother, granddaughter and great-grandson.
"Everything has been demolished. There is no slab, I think they even took the sidewalk," Blanks said.
For the past two years the 71-year-old Blanks has lived in an apartment in the Charlestowne neighborhood of St. Rose, but she is now preparing to rebuild her home.
"I was a little hesitant at first. I didn’t know if I would feel comfortable moving back there, but I decided this is where I need to be," she said.
At the age of 27 in 1970, Blanks became the property’s first owner. She credits a program for low-income homeowners as her key to making the purchase.
"It was basically for low-income families that wanted to purchase a home for themselves," she said. "At that time it was a $200 down payment and your note increased a little as your income increased, but I never had to pay more than $200 a month. Things were very different in those days."
The St. Rose native had been living in Kenner for five years before she moved back home and into the new house.
"It was very, very important," she said. "It was more convenient for me to be around my family. My mother and my grandparents were very supportive of me. They helped me with my children so I could work and I had a loving, caring mother."
In all, five generations of her family lived in the home at one point or another before it was lost in the blaze. Even though the original house is no longer standing, Blanks said her family’s connection to the property is strong.
"The memories will always be there no matter what," she said. "I was there for 41 years – one spot. My two children were very blessed. They never had to move from this place to that place."
Construction is set to begin on the lot within the next few weeks and Blanks is looking forward to getting back home.
"This is another new beginning for me," she said. "I started off young with a new home and in my older days I am getting another new home. Of course I am sorry it had to be under those circumstances."
Blanks said her mother would have wanted her to rebuild in the same location.
"By all means, yes. She would have wanted us to rebuild here. I know she would have," she said.
Although Blanks is rebuilding both her home and her life, she said she will be forever scarred by the tragedy of that February evening when everything changed.
"I never thought in a million years something so tragic would have happened," she said. "It’s hard every day, it’s a lingering situation for me. Every day I go through something. That was my heart, that was my mother and she and I got along so well."
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