Mother of week-old baby homeless, hopeful after Monday's devastating fire

LEWISTON — Jessica Ramsey's baby, Ayden, was born April 24, a perfect little boy with lots of dark hair. Five days later, she bolted from an apartment fire with him tucked in her arms.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Jessica Ramsey, with her son Ayden Browne, stayed at the Ramada Inn after Monday's fire destroyed their Blake Street apartment in Lewiston. Ayden was only 5 days old when he became the youngest victim of the blaze that left 75 people homeless and ruined three buildings.

More coverage of the Bartlett Street fire:

Stories from the Blake Street fire:

Helping the victims:

Ramsey, 27, is thrilled they're safe. She's also weighted with guilt.

In the panic of firefighters screaming from her porch to get out, she forgot the dog.

When she remembered 8-year-old Milo shut in the bedroom, it was too late.

It's been a week of joy — her new baby is beautiful, born on her late father's birthday. And sorrow — she lost all her father's belongings in that fire.

She lost everything.

Ramsey has enormous gratitude for people like the Kmart employee who bought baby outfits on the sly this week, then chased her down in the parking lot.

There's also simmering resentment. She'd put out a plea on Facebook two months ago: Her baby was coming and she had nothing. She needed help.

None came.

After a freak disaster, help seems everywhere. She's enormously grateful, but deep down wonders where help was two months ago. Where it is for people worse off than she is.

She spent much of the week at the Ramada Inn, put up by the Red Cross, worried a smoking neighbor would accidentally burn the hotel down.

Seventy-five people were left homeless after Monday's devastating fire leveled three large, downtown tenements. Afterward a 12-year-old boy was charged with arson.

Ramsey outran that fire. There's been no escaping its aftermath.

'So many things'

Ramsey moved into 105 Blake St. in early February, relieved that she'd found a landlord willing to take her General Assistance rental voucher for a one-room studio and give her a one-bedroom apartment.

She spotted the "condemned" signs in the windows a month later.

Ramsey said she was never clear on whether the whole building or just part of it was condemned. (It was the whole thing, street addresses 105 to 111 Blake, according to the city.) A maintenance worker told her she didn't have to pay rent until the property was back up to code, so in mid-March she stopped. Some tenants were served eviction notices; she wasn't. About that time, her boyfriend, the baby's father, Caleb Browne, 30, moved in with his pit-bull mix, Milo.

On the day of the fire, a friend had been over visiting Ramsey and the new baby. Browne had just stepped out to the store and had gotten a few blocks away when he smelled smoke.

"I said, 'Boy, that's awful close to home,'" said Browne. But since he'd just left, he thought, "It's safe to assume it's not us."

In the apartment, Ramsey heard a loud noise, looked over and saw smoke seeping into the living room. Within moments the firefighters were yelling.

"I grabbed nothing," she said, just Ayden, then booked it down three flights of stairs. "I wanted to get the baby to safety. There's probably so many things I could have done."

Outside, her friend left to move her car in the commotion. That's when Ramsey remembered Milo. She wasn't going to run back into the building with the baby. Nor did she want to hand Ayden to a stranger.

Ramsey pleaded with people around her. The building wasn't yet on fire. Still, no one would go back inside for the dog.

Browne found Ramsey and the baby later on the street. He's taken Milo's loss hard.

"It kills me to think he's in the bedroom scared, alone, terrified, trying to get out," Browne said. "I was relieved (Ramsey and Ayden were safe). I was devastated at the same time. My best friend didn't make it. I have a hard time thinking about his final moments. I'm not able to recover his body; there's a pile of rubble out there."

Ramsey lost her clothes, furniture, baby gifts that hadn't been touched and the tangible memories of her father, like his Dale Earnhardt drinking glasses. Her father died in 2002, when she was 17.

"It was almost like my dad died again on me," she said. "Every little thing I had of his is gone now."

Kindness and hope

Ayden is Ramsey's fourth child. The older three live with her grandmother. She said she's in the process of getting custody back. Her last job was in October and ended because of her pregnancy. The couple didn't have renters insurance and things had been lean before the fire, prompting that plea on Facebook.

In the last week, strangers have given her 800 newborn diapers. They've bought bath supplies, formula and clothes.

It's been overwhelming.

"All of a sudden a community becomes amazingly wonderful," Ramsey said. "It's like God sent millions of angels in our direction. You wouldn't receive this stuff if you were just crying out and being honest."

She plans to give any extras or, eventually, things Ayden no longer needs, to "people out there who need more help than I do right now."

By Friday, the Red Cross had given her one extra night in the hotel. She hadn't found a new apartment yet.

"I've been calling, but you can't really do much when you don't have an income," Ramsey said.

She'd likely spend a few nights with friends, likely reapply for the city's General Assistance help.

Asked about her plans further in the future, Ramsey struggled to answer, but she tried.

"I'm very hopeful to make it so my son gets everything he needs," Ramsey said. "I will eventually work on my own and stand on my own two feet again."

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Zack Lenhert's picture

Judge not, lest ye be judged

Judge not, lest ye be judged first.

ERNEST LABBE's picture

Kathryn the way I

Kathryn the way I view this is we have a woman that is evidently a very slow learner. She didn't learn after the first mistake, nor the second or third.

A teenager getting pregnant is one thing. We were all kids once. But give me a break. Here we have an egg donor that evidently doesn't have support from whoever donated the sperm for the other three children. Now ths homeless mother of a newborn son is living in an apartment with her son and current sperm donor at the taxpayers expense.

I'm sorry but I cannot feel sorry for people like her.

Jason Theriault's picture

Just wondering.

"She said she's in the process of getting custody back."

How the f can you justify that?!?!. I have two kids, and if I couldn't support them, I sure as hell would be pulling them out of a situation where they were being cared for.

Jason Theriault's picture


I sure as hell wouldn't be pulling them out of a situation where they were being cared for.



Lots of stone throwing in the comments but not much in the way of solutions. It is a very big problem in LA that too many people have too many children too soon. I have discussed this same subject with 12 year old students who were envious of a pregnant friend only to be told. " My mother was 14 when she had me" .And so the pattern repeats itself. My long term solution would be educating girls to the reality that they need an education before motherhood. The other would be to hand out free birth control at the high school door on Thurs. and Fri. afternoons or to make job training and child care education available for young single mothers perhaps even as a condition of getting assistance. As for the existing babies, they are not to blame for the circumstances they were born in. None of us got to choose our parents.

DAVE GUDAS's picture


Teachers are a typically very compassionate group. Compassion is a trait that makes someone a good teacher. Unfortunately I've seen that compassion bestowed upon oh so many unprepared pregnant teens, and the attention and excitement directed to them becomes an enviable situation by other at risk students. It quickly becomes... within an immature mind... a seemingly quick path out of your dismal life situation, get pregnant, you'll get someone (the baby) that will love you unconditionally, get a check, an apartment, self esteem, attention from your teachers, and a what seems to be a life which will be so much better.
Hence we maintain Day Care Centers at the High School. Who ever heard of that 25 years ago?

We need some mandated requirements to be a parent. You don't pass them. You lose the child.

Right now you can't buy a cigarette or vote if you're not 18 ( you're deemed to immature) No drinking alcohol until 21 (because you're too immature) - No driving until you're 16 and passed several tests --- Can't hunt a or fish, buy fireworks, etc. because of similar age and testing restrictions... but go ahead and have a baby, an actual dependent human being, and be in charge of that human life, raise that human being. there's no age limit, no tests, go for it, raise the baby... have at it.!! It's all good fun! -- It's absolutely insane is what it is.


Blame God

I guess God is the one to blame to come up with a system that allows unqualified people to become parents. Lord knows there have been many. If your solution is to have some sort of licensing which allows parents to keep the child if they meet the requirements I think the Chinese are ahead of you on that. I'm not sure I can figure out what happens after "you lose the child". Surely you don't mean lose literally. Perhaps you are thinking orphanages? I worked in one in my younger days and I don't think I would recommend that route. There is a reason we got rid of them. I think it is a cultural problem that requires a lot of education to change it. People can change. I remember when we couldn't walk five feet anywhere without smelling cigarette smoke. It took a lot of education to get people to see the harm in it. Children having children is certainly as big a problem.

ERNEST LABBE's picture

Claire perhaps you should have a

Claire perhaps you should have a serious conversation with a real Chinese (a person that lived in China for a great part of their life) older person about their method of birth control.

Im quite certain you would like their method. Although it seems to work in holding down their population.

Sandra Coulombe's picture

Miss Ramsey how about you

Miss Ramsey how about you start with giving your son a responsible mother? Seriously 4 kids and you don't even have custody of 3 of them nor are you supporting any of the 4 and you are complaining that no one was willing to "help" you before the fire? Why should anyone be willing to help someone as irresponsible as you have proven yourself to be? Grow up, it's past time.

 's picture

simmering resentment? good,

simmering resentment? good, now she knows how the taxpayers feel. Note to Sun-Journal; this is why people hate the media, when you try and spin this drivel.

DAVE GUDAS's picture

Nice spin

Despite the writers artistry and wordsmithing...
What we have here is an age 27 adult on her fourth child, apparently doesn't have custody of three of them, no means of support other than General Assistance, the proverbial boyfriend with the pit bull...
We're supposed to support her, encourage her, and continue to enable her?


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