As a local family copes with the tragic loss of two young sisters, more than 3,000 supporters showed up Tuesday night for a fundraiser at the Chick-fil-A in Frederick.
The Lillard family, of Myersville, lost 6-year-old Sophie Paige Lillard and 3-year-old Madigan Grace Lillard in a house fire Thursday in the 3900 block of Highland Avenue. The girls died of smoke inhalation, an autopsy determined.
Before Tuesday's fundraiser, an online giving campaign sponsored by Fit For Life Boot Camp had raised nearly $50,000 for the Lillard family.
"It's terrifying because my children are 3 and 6," supporter Sibylle Huffman said as her children sat in a booth at the restaurant. "I can't imagine what their mother is going through."
Sophie and Madigan's mother, Christine Lillard, escaped the blaze on Thursday along with three other family members.
The Lillards' 8-year-old, Morgan, was taken to Children's National Medical Center in Washington. The girls' father, Jack Lillard, 39, was flown to Medstar Washington Hospital Center and has since been released. Their youngest daughter, 7-month-old Sadie, was treated with her mother at Frederick Memorial hospital and released Friday.
"It's your worse fears realized, especially as a mom," organizer Emily Mills said Tuesday as hundreds of patrons packed the restaurant's dining area.
Mills said at one point organizers had to stop people from coming inside because the restaurant had reached capacity shortly after the fundraiser began. An estimate on the total amount of proceeds raised was not available Tuesday night, but Franchise Restaurant Operator Bree Rettig said 25 percent of the proceeds would benefit the Lillard family.
"It's continuous, it's crazy, it's wild," said Rettig, standing in the middle of the hustle and bustle. "Everybody really wants to help."
Since the tragedy, events to benefit the Lillard family continue to pop up around the county, including one in which runners can do their part to help the family. Participants can run the Love For the Lillards Virtual 5K and Half Marathon any time and anywhere between Feb. 8 and March 24. Registration for the 5K is $20, and the half marathon is $30.
All proceeds will go to the family through the Patty Pollatos Fund, which is administering much of the money coming in for the family, said founder Debbie Williams, who added that she has been moved by the outpouring of support for the Lillards.
"So many people's hearts are so broken, and they want to do things," Williams said. "Frederick County is the most amazing place."
Williams said the Patty Pollatos Fund will be handling the money for the Lillards, covering their expenses directly.
"They don't want to touch the money," she said. "They have asked for nothing but prayer."
Williams said she has been keeping in contact with the family and said the condition of 8-year- old Morgan Lillard continues to improve.
Investigators from the Frederick County Fire Investigation Task Force are still conducting interviews in an effort to determine what caused the fire, said Mike Dmuchowski, spokesman for the Frederick County Fire Marshal's Office. He said investigators are looking into the presence and status of smoke detectors in the house as part of the probe.
The fast-moving blaze gutted the single-family home and, along with an unstable structure, prevented firefighters from reaching the children in time. About 75 firefighters from approximately 40 fire and rescue companies battled the blaze, which caused an estimated $200,000 in damage.
For more on Lillard Family fundraisers, visit www.facebook.com/LillardFamilyRelief.
Famous Dave's in Frederick is planning a fundraiser for Monday. Donations can also be made through the Patty Pollatos Fund on the organization's website, ppfinc.org.
"This is Frederick at its core," said supporter Nikki Feltham. "We take care of each other."