The following is from the Augusta Fire Dept. and the Cottleville Fire Protection District - The first arriving fire crew arrived at 8:01 a.m., New Melle 8914. They reported the
structure to be fully involved in fire. At 8:02 a.m., the crew reported that they were entering the home. The crew of 8914 bravely entered a rear bedroom from a window and searched for victims but were forced back out of the window due to extreme heat and fire conditions. The crew made a second attempt through a second window but were once again forced out. By this time, additional crews had arrived and initiated a fire attack, enabling firefighters to reenter the home, at which point two victims were located. The victims were both male, ages 4 and 6. Despite efforts made by paramedics to resuscitate them, both were pronounced deceased on-scene. Five people were in the home at the time of the fire. Firefighters, paramedics, and police officers fought a sub-zero wind chill and an extremely emotional scene while bravely performing their duties. After leaving the scene, first responders attended a critical incident stress debriefing. Several agencies responded to the fire, including Augusta, Cottleville, O’Fallon, New Melle, Wentzville, St. Charles County Police and St. Charles County Ambulance District.
The fire was in the home of Jennifer and Vernon Ham. The two boys, Jameson and Julian Keiser, lived in the home with Jenn and Vern, along with their mother, Evelyn Turpiano, Jenn’s daughter. Jameson is a first-grader at Daniel Boone Elementary in New Melle. His younger brother, Julian, attended Meadows Parkway Early Childhood Center near Weldon Spring, MO. The home, the family dog Cooper, and all their possessions were lost in the fire.
There are no words that can adequately console the victims, or describe the level of compassion felt by friends and neighbors at a time like this. In the absence of words, the people of Defiance took action to help comfort and aid a family that has always been there for everyone else.
The Defiance Merchants Association started a GoFundMe account and held a prayer vigil at Good News Brewing in Defiance on the evening of the fire. The donations started pouring in from all over in the form of cash and gift cards. Jenn’s employer, The Hoffmann Family of Companies, saw that their housing and other immediate needs were met.
On January 29, the boys' schools joined together and, with the help of the Daniel Boone PTO and the Student Council, held an Italian Dinner Memorial Fundraiser at Daniel Boone Elementary School in New Melle. They served over 900 meals in three hours. As always, the surrounding community came out to show their support and did not disappoint.
To be on the receiving end of so much generosity is a new experience for the Ham family. Jenn and her family have always been active in the community and involved in helping others. As an example, after the devasting tornado struck Defiance in December of 2021, Jenn was instrumental in organizing aid for the victims, and was one of several citizens recognized as a community HERO (Honoring Exemplary Residents Officially) for her efforts.
Jennifer conveyed her gratitude on Facebook recently, "I am truly humbled by the outpouring of support. I am the giver, not the receiver, so this has been a hard pill to swallow. But please know we are all so grateful. You all have been amazing.”
Funeral services for the boys were held February 1 at Baue Funeral Home in Cave Springs. Please keep the family in your thoughts and prayers as they navigate their way through the coming days.
If you would like to help the family with cash or gift card donations, you can donate through GoFundMe. You can also drop off cash, checks made payable to Friends of Defiance Memorial Fund, or gift cards at Peoples Savings Bank, 30 Muhm Center, New Melle, as well as at The Defiance General Store, all Good News Brewing Company locations, Defiance Ridge Vineyards, Sugar Creek Winery/Judgment Tree, Chandler Hill Vineyards, or Sunflower Hill Farm.
One last note: While everyone’s generosity is deeply appreciated, the response has been a bit overwhelming. There is no longer any need for donated clothing, furniture, household items or prepared food for the family at this time. Thank you!
To read Follow-Up Thoughts from NMFPD Chief Dan Casey.
Italian Dinner Memorial Fundraiser held at
Daniel Boone Elementary, over 900 dinners
were served and $20,000 was raised
for the family.