Family seeks help following house fire

Only three days after moving into their new home, Julie Hutchinson and her three adopted grandchildren — two with special needs — have lost everything in an unexpected house fire.

The Hutchinson family is seeking help from the community following a tragic incident.
The Hutchinson family is seeking help from the community following a tragic incident.
Photo by Annabelle Sikes
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West Orange resident Julie Hutchinson embodies the definition of strength and perseverance. 

Her first and only child spent all of his life in intensive care. He died after only three years and 11 days, but his life inspired her to serve as a nurse helping grieving mothers and training new nurses in the NICU for nearly 30 years. 

After taking in her three adopted grandchildren who needed a home — two of whom have special needs — with the help of her husband, Robert, who died only a few months later, she was left alone as the sole caretaker.

Now, only three days after moving into their new home in the Vista del Lago neighborhood, the family has lost everything in an unexpected house fire Monday, March 25.

Hutchinson is now doing one of the hardest things in her life: asking for help.

“I’ve felt kind of uncomfortable having someone start a GoFundMe page for us, because I feel like it’s asking for handouts, and it kind of bothered me a bit,” she said. “I’m used to taking care of things by myself. I told people that have asked me about it that if all they can donate is their prayers, that is more than enough. All prayers are gratefully accepted. Right now, I want to keep the children’s lives as normal as possible. You try to take care of the priorities of the day. Right now, for me, it’s shelter, followed by food, followed by clothing, followed by getting my kids to school and their doctor’s appointments. All I can do is keep my faith and pray.”


Robert and Julie Hutchinson were married for 25 years. 

It was a second marriage for both. Robert Hutchinson had two children from his first marriage, and the grandchildren — Nevaeh, 18; Justice, 15; and Trinity, 6 — belong to his youngest daughter.

Julie Hutchinson has adopted her three grandchildren, Trinity, 6; Justice, 15; and Nevaeh, 18.
Courtesy photo

“Their mother had gone the ways of drugs and crime with the father of the little one,” Julie Hutchinson said. “She had spiraled to a point that she had approached me about getting her and him into drug rehab. I had gotten both of them into rehab, and he failed, left and went and got her. They never looked back. He’s currently incarcerated in Tennessee. I don’t know where she is. Her own blood mother has not heard from her in three years. She voluntarily gave the children to me and my husband, when she was going to rehab, and then, after she failed rehab, DCF reached out wanting to know where the children were, and they told us how to go about changing it over to custody and guardianship for the children.”

The Hutchinsons obtained custody of their grandchildren in January 2018, and Robert Hutchinson died that August. 

For years, Julie Hutchinson struggled and sacrificed to provide for her grandchildren and keep things afloat. 

“I knew what to do with babies being a NICU nurse, but toddlers were a whole other story, and I had never been in a situation where I had raised children and been a full-time parent,” she said. “It’s been on-the-job training for me. It’s 24/7.”

After recently retiring, Julie Hutchinson made the tough decision to sell her home for something more affordable and manageable. 

After months of searching, she finally found the perfect place in Vista del Lago. The home was the perfect size for their family; each child got a bedroom, the children got to stay in their current schools, and it was miraculously all within her budget.

This was a much-needed break and relief for the family. 

Julie Hutchinson used all her retirement and money from a former home sale to buy the new home in the community that fit her eldest grandchild’s medical needs. She bought the home in cash to avoid housing payments.

The family moved into their new home Friday, March 22. Three days later, everything was gone.

The estimated cost to rebuild the home is $90,000. This amount does not include replacing any of the furniture or personal belongings, nor does it include the cost of staying in a hotel as they navigate this nightmare.
Courtesy photo


“They think the fire started on the kitchen stove,” Julie Hutchinson said. “My grandson had been trying to help me unpack boxes, and he had put some wrapping paper in a box that he was unwrapping on the stove. He was looking for my pots and pans, because he wanted me to cook dinner. We had been eating out a lot during the move, and he really just wanted me to cook. I told him if he could find my pots and pans that I would make us something. He accidentally pushed a button and turned the stove on, and the box caught fire. I was at a doctor’s appointment with Nevaeh and Trinity when he called me. I told him to get out of the house. Thank God he got out safely.”

The estimated cost to rebuild the home is $90,000. This amount does not include replacing any of the furniture or personal belongings, nor does it include the cost of staying in a hotel as they navigate this nightmare. 

Following the fire, Julie Hutchinson’s car also died, so she will have a repair bill and needs a new reliable car to take the children to school and to their doctor appointments.

Local Realtor Victoria O’Day, who helped the family sell their old home, has started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the Hutchinsons. 

“My heart goes out to the Hutchinson family, as they are in a desperate time of need,” O’Day wrote on the page. “Sharing their story, whether through social media, lending a helping hand in some way, or making a donation, could make an immeasurable difference as they navigate this harrowing journey toward recovery. Your support, in whatever form it takes, will be a beacon of hope in this difficult time.”

O’Day also shared the family’s story on Facebook in hopes of garnering support.

“My heart is broken for this family,” she wrote. “We just sold their home … this month, and we were so excited for them as they embarked on a new journey in a new home. One that would be more affordable and manageable for them. Just yesterday, their home caught fire, leaving them homeless and with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They are currently in a hotel as they figure out their next steps. I am sick over this. This sweet lady, Julie, has struggled so much, and this new home was finally a break and a relief for her. These three children have been through a ton as well, and now they’re dealing with a traumatizing event.”


Already, Julie Hutchinson said there has been an outpouring of love from the community. 

The neighborhood helped with boarding the windows of the home and collected $3,000 to help with a hotel and food for the family to get by temporarily.

The family also has received help from Julie Hutchinson’s church, Discovery Church, but more is needed. 

Right now, the Vista del Lago community has stepped in to lift the flooring and get rid of the burned items inside the home.

The Hutchinson’s No. 1 supporter has been Gail Bencomo, Julie Hutchinson’s friend for more than 30 years. The grandchildren fondly refer to Bencomo as “Aunt Gail.”

Gail Bencomo and Julie Hutchinson have been friends for more than 30 years.
Photo by Annabelle Sikes

Bencomo said she always has called Julie Hutchinson her hero.

“She’s a hero,” she said. “She’s a hero for these kids, and, I mean, she was the only one who seemed like she wanted to step up. I always told her that she was strong enough to take on this effort, and I always told her that I would be by her side. I told her she would never be alone, and we would work through it together. Whatever we had to do, but that everything always has a way of working out. Even in the darkest hours, the darkest moments, things will work out.”

Bencomo said she currently is focused on helping the family one day at a time. 

“When all of this happened last week, I went into the mindset of knowing we had to make sure the kids were dressed, fed, sheltered, and I started reaching out to people I knew for help,” she said. “It was a chain of love, and stuff started pouring in.”

In addition to GoFundMe donations, the family is looking for storage space for the items that may be salvageable from the house, resources for construction supplies, and gift cards for restaurants and groceries.

“It is sometimes hard for her to ask for help,” Bencomo said. “I think she also knows that she’s got a small group of people, that has expanded immensely now, that she can always rely on and that will help her be strong. I always tell her, when you’re in the darkest moments, eventually there is going to be light. I think she is going to meet so many people that are just going to embrace her and love the family on this unexpected journey. I don’t think Julie realizes how strong she is. This has been a devastating, catastrophic event, yet here she is.”

Despite the obstacles, Julie Hutchinson knows she needs to continue to push on not just for herself but for her grandchildren who depend on her. 

“It’s funny, because when I was going through everything with my son, I questioned why me and why this would happen, and people would ask me, ‘How do you do it?’ And I would say, ‘What else am I supposed to do — dig a hole and pull it in after me?’” she said. “I know the ‘why’ now. When you’re in it, you don’t really have a choice. You just wake up each day and put one foot in front of the other. I may not understand the ‘why’ for this today, but if I give it a little time, I know the purpose will come."



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

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