Home Health News 500lb Teen Unable To Be Rescued From Fire, and I Blame EVERYONE

500lb Teen Unable To Be Rescued From Fire, and I Blame EVERYONE

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Update, May 24, 2016: This post is receiving a weird re-popularization, which only annoys me because of the 1,700+ posts on the blog, this is one of three I wish I’d perhaps given a little more thought to writing.

As I’d written on a post somewhere on social media, I think there’s a more compassionate way to discuss this girl’s passing, something that lends a little bit more empathy to her plight and how awful it must’ve been in her last moments to know what was coming and have little opportunity to stop it. There’s a level of inhumanity that goes along with seeing a story like this and then harping on her size. I think it’s fair to point that out, as many have done. I completely agree.

At the same time, as caregivers, we have to find ways to connect with the people we love to get them the resources they need when they need them. We do this with mental health—we get people the resources they need WHEN they need them most to prevent them from succumbing to the worst of their condition. We do this with any number of conditions, and as caregivers, we have to find ways to do this with the people we love, albeit compassionately. And that’s the key word. None of this “tough love” nonsense—with empathy and respect.

I’ve learned, years later, that it’s really difficult to discuss situations using *people* because we *never* know the full story. “You don’t want to be like X,” or “you don’t want your kids to look like X” or “You look at what happened to X” uses a person as a mascot for a situation and it’s hard to separate the situation from the person, resulting in judging. *That’s* why it’s fat-shaming. I know that *now*.

But, as I’m not deleting the post because I don’t mind being held accountable (and, I also value my integrity), it stands as a conversation we need to consider for ourselves and our loved ones. We don’t need to be thin, we don’t need to be fitness models, but we do need to be able to save ourselves if the situation arises, but we should only be held accountable to ourselves for that. Not me, not the public, but ourselves. But we are accountable to our children to protect them and help them. And that’s what had me so hype when I first saw this post. I just didn’t care about the other side, I cared about the life lost. But, an empathetic heart means we care about all sides. We support all sides. We learn from all sides. We listen more, read more, and think more before we speak.

So nah, I completely understand people who are upset with this post. I also know I don’t have the answers, and desperately wish I did.

The entire post, written in 2010, follows below.

I’m pretty speechless:

Whether it’s Michelle Obama’s health initiatives or programs to make school lunches more healthy, there has been an increasing focus on America’s increasing waistline and obesity epidemic.

However, a suburban community is realizing that there are even more consequences to being overweight than simply high blood pressure and diabetes.

According to WREX in Rockford, Ill., a fire began in a one-story home just before 4:00 a.m. Monday. The two parents, Joe and Delores Herron, escaped, but when firefighters arrived, their daughter and two foster sons, ages 10 and 11, were still trapped inside.

Firefighters were able to get the 2 boys out through the window, but firefighters could not lift Jamaya

Investigators say she weighed more than 500 pounds. through.

Winnebago County Coroner Sue Fiduccia said, “That [the weight] did hamper the fire department and fire rescuers from taking her out a window. They did have to bring her out the door and in doing that, two firefighters we’re actually injured.”

By then, it was too late for Jamaya.

The daughter of a pastor and a singer at the church died at the scene. Fire Chief Derek Bergsten, stated:

“They gave 110 percent, did their best and sometimes we’re not able to save everyone, but we were able to get two individuals out of that structure alive.”

Investigators say Jamaya died from breathing smoke. There will be an autopsy later this week.

Fannie Barbee, a relative of the family, says, “She was very faithful in the church. Whenever I go over there, she was a really nice person.” [source]

Of course, I waited a few days to write about this just because I needed to think without the presence of anger or sadness…

..but then I realized that a little anger might be appropriate.

The video above is from the news clip regarding the events surrounding Jamaya’s passing. (If you’re a subscriber, you may want to visit this post on a computer to view it.)

Far be it for me to disrespect a grieving family, but we’re adults, here. Adults take situations and learn from them all the time. This needs to be one of those situations.

She was the daughter of a pastor and actively involved in her church. Obviously well-known.

All those people in her community… and no one was able to assist her before she reached the 300, 400 or 500lb mark? How does a teenager gain so much weight before they even reach adulthood?

Those of us who read this site know the importance of having a supportive environment full of people who care about us to help us reach our goals. What, in the world, is going on in a church when a girl can be “very faithful” yet still no one was as devoted to her as she was to them?

I mean, I get it – I’m the main one saying that we shouldn’t judge people who stand before us because we don’t know where they are on their journey to wellness. That’s my line. I know it by heart. But Jamaya passed away because no one bothered to stop her before it got to the point where her quality of life was so impacted that she couldn’t even be rushed to safety! This isn’t a young girl who we see outside walking and decide to judge from our cars. This is a girl who no one bothered to intervene with 200lbs ago. Major difference.

Now a while back, I wrote asking the readers of BGG2WL if there was anyone in their lives who was allowed to let them know their weight might be getting out of hand… and a lot of the messages I received publicly and privately implied that no one was allowed to tell them. No one was allowed to make them feel like something was wrong with them for gaining weight. And if you’re 140lbs at 5’8″, that makes sense. No one should be making you feel bad.

Having said that, those of us who are on the path to wellness and are experiencing positive results… You know how hard it was for you to obtain the knowledge you’ve developed. Be it from books, from your peers, even from this site. It is your responsibility to “be the change you wish to see” in your community and be a role model for better health. You don’t have to tell anyone “You’re getting fat” – in all my time, I’ve never used those words – but you can show people that good food doesn’t have to be full of sugar or fat or salt. You can be excited by your own loss and share with people how “easy” it’s been for you. (Maybe “simple” might be a better word.) You can let people know that your success has come from cooking more, being more active, and using less junk foods. People don’t want words, and they certainly don’t want insults. They want to see that something works, then they want to know what that something is. Do you think you’d be here reading MY words if you didn’t know that what I write about worked for me? I doubt it.

I question why no one in Jamaya’s community could be “that kind of person” for her. They had 200lbs worth of time to be there for her, and no one did it. I’ll even put it out there – what kind of emotional damage is a teenager going through that she’d rather continue harmful habits than try to get help? The same kind of emotional damage caused by parents who can get out of a house, yet leave their three children inside?

Sorry, I take that back. But I am a devoted parent and… let’s just say there better be a logical explanation for that part.

That is a beautiful girl lost because no one could save her. No one could get to her fast enough. In more ways than one. It is shameful that we have young girls in our community that need help and, apparently, aren’t getting it. It is shameful that they have no one to talk to about their insecurities and seek out some kind of guidance. It is a pain that we should  all feel that there are women who would rather endure the decreased quality of life than do what they need to do to be on a path to wellness.

Make no mistake about it – this isn’t about her dress size. This isn’t about her appearance, either – look at her, she’s a beautiful girl! This is about the fact that a girl, obviously devoted to her church community, was able to become so large that two individuals were harmed in an attempt to save her while she was impaired. That is a serious problem.

This should make us all look at ourselves. What do we do for those individuals who might be struggling? Do we talk to them, befriend them to see if they’re okay? Do we invite them over for dinner and, even though we might endure the “forget this – I want some real food!” comments, at least show them what healthier food looks like? Do we offer emotional support? Offer to go for a walk with them? Or are we just judging from afar, and make sure we can chip in on the casket?

I know that’s a bit sensationalist, but that’s real talk. What are we doing to stop this kind of silliness?

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Kirsten September 24, 2010 - 10:58 AM

This is a mirror.

What we see in her we see in ourselves. I have resisted getting on the obesity is bad bandwagon, because I am obese. I am not 500 pounds, but where do I draw the line. Is 300 better than 500 because it’s not 500?

What happens in a person’s life where they get to 500 pounds and no one can say to them, this is no good for you?

There is a word that is used by those in Recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, it is called enabling. For those members of a family where there is a drug addict or alcoholic, the family members become complicit in the maintenance of the addicts behavior through their enabling of that behavior. They cover up and create scenarios where that person can continue their ways. I suspect, in the case of family members of individuals who are overweight, there is this same kind of co-dependancy.

This is sad, and a wakeup call. Something is very wrong here, and it is not just about obesity, there is a deeper underlying problem.

rissa September 24, 2010 - 11:01 AM

this is realliy upsetting, and honestly I think that it’s child abuse. it’s also extremely sad if an adults gets to be that size but our job as parents are to guide, nurture, and look out for the well-being of our children. the majority (not all of course as children trade lunches and sneak food) of the food that children consume are foods that we cook, purchase, or fund. coming from a childhood of probably 80% processed food, i understand that definitely in our communities there is a huge lack of education in the area of nutrition but when your underaged child gets that large and you haven’t stepped in to do something, thats beyond a “problem”.

shau May 25, 2016 - 12:34 PM


Lynn Franklin September 24, 2010 - 11:19 AM

This just makes me sad and angry. Sad because this girl had to die and angry because no one could save her or help her save herself. I know how it feels to feel helpless and not know what to do. I wonder did anyone reach out to her as well but I also know that the person has to want it. I was 320 lbs at my heaviest myself and i am down 80lbs so far but nothing nobody said made me want to do that I had to want it myself. My little sister is large. I know about close to 350 but she won’t hear me or my father. I make my niece get on the treadmill 5 days a week but she is young, but my sister is grown and makes her own decisions. I have church members I have shared my continuous weight loss issues and goals with but they still refuse to take help or even think about losing the weight. I even started a weight loss program at my church but stopped for NO PARTICIPATION. It is like pulling teeth to make them realize what they are doing to their bodies, minds, self esteem. I hate that this had to happen for even some people to realize how serious obesity has gotten in America. I just hope that somebody will see this and really try to help their children and others to get healthy.

Tina F. September 24, 2010 - 12:10 PM


I had great difficulty reading this blog without judgment or anger. I tried looking on the side of “what if someone tried to help but it wasn’t enough” or the side of “she chose to be this way despite the constant television reports of obesity and other illnesses caused by obesity” and I just couldn’t get past the fact she passed because of a lack of knowledge. Period.

Whether it was a lack of knowledge about how to lose the weight, how to eat properly or what exercises may be the best for her, it was simply a lack of knowledge. This, to me, was a direct example of how we are in our community. We love gossip, we love backstabbing, but we despise breaking any traditions, including the tradition of eating foods that have brought us comfort over the years and centuries for our families. We love doing things that show or embrace our natural curves, we love discussing what we may naturally have over other races, but we don’t like to do exercises that may “bulk us up” or “rearrange our curves”. And this is all due to a lack of knowledge. It makes no sense that our children knows what “the sugar” is but can’t tell you what is on the food pyramid chart. Or that our children knows what medications we take and why we are taking them but can’t tell you the importance of exercise. Frankly, most of us couldn’t answer these questions as adults and it is because of a lack of knowledge.

We have to become more knowledgeable about our bodies, our foods, exercise and how our bodies react to foods and exercise. Perhaps this wouldn’t happen if we would take the time to learn and teach ourselves AND our children how to properly treat our bodies. Thanks to your website and countless other health websites and books, we no longer have an excuse to be ignorant. It is now a choice of whether we seek out the knowledge and apply it or just let it go through one ear and out the other.

Sorry that this posting is so long, but like I stated earlier, I found it difficult to read this blog without anger or judgment. I agree with what you said wholeheartedly and I do encourage all that read this blog to do what they can where they are to spread any information concerning positive health and wellness. Take care…

eye-shuh September 24, 2010 - 12:57 PM

But what do you do when the person has those kind of people in their life, and just won’t listen?

I have a friend who weighs a good 400lbs, and has had people (including myself) telling him that he needs to get healthy, including drinking a lot less alcohol. (He uses his weight as an excuse to binge drink)

However, every time it’s brought up in different ways he always responds the exact same way, “I know, you can stop telling me” “I know, I already have this person telling me” “I know”

How can we, as friends, help him to realize that he’s harming himself? How do we encourage the change without him tuning us out as a broken record?

I’m not at all saying that that’s what was going on here, I’m just genuinely curious if others have run into this type of situation and perhaps found good solutions/ways to help.

Erika September 24, 2010 - 3:02 PM

I believe that adults are different… and like most adults, they like to see WHY they should do what they should do. Backwards, I know, especially when they already know they should do it… but nonethless that’s how it is.

I have a loved one like this… she’s not going to dive in head-first into “chasing wellness” but I am absolutely satisfied with her seeing me live everything I say and slowly asking me about different things. I got her to fall back on drinking the soft drinks, and she’s eating much less fried foods. In fact, she called me today because she wanted to talk to me about Dr. Oz’s show today.

We can’t expect people to change overnight because this is overwhelming, but we CAN strive for wellness ourselves, let it emanate from everything we do, and let our loved ones watch the benefits we reap until they decide it’s time for them to enjoy those same benefits.

Don’t talk about it with him, just LIVE it, and enjoy your benefits, Enjoy the weight loss. The ability to breathe. The improved “quality of life.” The ability to leave behind a wardrobe because you can’t fit it anymore. People need to see it.. not hear it. I said this before, but I’ll say it again – NO ONE would read this blog if I hadn’t lost 150lbs myself living everything I type… and y’all know it. LOL That’s just how it is.

It does not happen overnight. It simply doesn’t. It may happen slowly but it DOES, however, happen. We ALL know that. If you have any more questions, I’m always here. 🙂

BIGReub December 22, 2014 - 12:48 PM

Food addiction is real. I’ve lived as my best friend basically ate himself to death. We went to extreme measures to try and help him get healthy and nothing worked. Have you tried to talk an anorexic into eating? How about telling a drug addict they should stop. As much as we don’t like to acknowledge it it’s not a matter of will. I lost my best friend and four years later I still cry for him. You are talking about a physical and psychological illness and you are so far off with this post.

Erika Nicole Kendall December 22, 2014 - 1:02 PM

“You are talking about a physical and psychological illness and you are so far off with this post.”

I’m extremely familiar with what I’m talking about. And I stand by my statements.

She is a MINOR – not an adult, not your best friend. A MINOR. Someone’s RESPONSIBILITY. The two are, to me, incomparable. Sorry.

Sarah May 25, 2016 - 9:47 PM

I don’t agree with your statements even though I understand what you are saying.

Yes, people could of helped her before she gets to that point but why is it the adults to blame for all the issues? You’re telling me a person who grew up in a beautiful home, loving parents, strict but fair and their child turns out to a in a gang, or a murderer it is because of the parents? No. There are a lot of social factors that aid in raising children it’s not solely based on parents anymore if you haven’t noticed. You can give your child everything and they will still turn out to be their own person.

Now in regards to weight – parents do have more control with what they feed their children but if you ever watched a documentary about fast foods in America you will see why SO many people there are over weight. Food is easily accessed and cheap. Not everyone is wealthy enough to have three healthy meals cooked everyday nor do people have the time. Now a days it is a lot easier to stop at a McDonald’s and grab food.

My little sister is getting on the bigger side. I will admit my spoils her as she is the last but she is youngest of 6 with all of us grown and making our own money. My mom works full time and can’t provide the home cooked meals like she did before, which results in my sister getting the shorter end of the stick. BUT my sister also will buy her own hide snacks, etc. I have talked to her many times… When people reach a certain age of course they are still children but at the end of the day it is an addiction especially if you getting up to 500lbs. Who knows maybe her parents did tell her, but she didn’t want to listen, what do you expect them to do? Starve her? She will find food else where.

So yes she is a minor and maybe steps could have been taken a long ago to prevent her from being 500lbs but if you look at America obesity is sky rocketing which to due to economic and social factors. So before you point fingers at parents/communities – which I’m sure she isn’t the only obese one – look up obesity in America as a whole and you will find the larger problem and culprit.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 26, 2016 - 12:38 PM

“So yes she is a minor and maybe steps could have been taken a long ago to prevent her from being 500lbs but if you look at America obesity is sky rocketing which to due to economic and social factors.”

This is part of what I think we need to talk about, too—what are these “steps?” These aren’t children that should be singled out in some mass form like what’s been done in the past, but they need resources. What should they be?

Lasciel September 24, 2010 - 2:44 PM

Over 500 pounds isn’t easy to get to. I wonder if she had a medical problem or disability that might have made it difficult for her to lose weight. That’s the problem I have here-people assuming she ate super unhealthy and a lot, that she didn’t exercise, and that her parents “abused” her by letting that go on…

Spreading knowledge of eating healthy and exercises you can do with limited mobility is great, but I think it’s wrong to assume that everyone failed her, and that what works for most of us will work for everyone.

Erika September 24, 2010 - 3:09 PM

You’re right – over 500lbs isn’t easy to get to.

So how did she get there? What medical problem do you suggest might’ve allowed her to get to 500lbs? How fast did she get there? There was NO POINT BEFORE 500lbs that someone could’ve offered her some guidance?

I didn’t say anything about food in my post. I specifically asked about intervention. I’m not backing down from that. Kristen even used a word I’ll co-sign, here – enabling. There is a point where someone has to stop. I specifically am asking why that point never came.

I’m also giving the side-eye to this “what works for most of us won’t work for everyone” business because, while I might agree with it in a different context, it doesn’t apply here. I’m trying to find out whether or not we believe in a point of intervention in our community. That includes consulting a doctor (who, regardless of whether or not she would’ve been met with medical bias, could’ve at least offered her some advice.) This isn’t 300lbs we’re talking about. This is 500. Something went wrong at least 200lbs ago and someone should’ve offered some guidance then. This is a teenager… not an adult. Teens have limitations when parents and guardians behave like parents and guardians. I’m sorry, but “failed her” is EXACTLY what they did.

lolgurl September 25, 2010 - 10:20 AM

I have similar feelings as Eye-Shuh: that perhaps she was offered help but refused to take it. I understand where you’re coming from though Erika, that at least the people around here should have tried to be an example by showing her a healthy way to live and coaxing her to come around and lose weight.

However there was a very similar situation in my family which we did attempt to intervene in. My oldest brother died about 7 years ago from obesity related complications; my dad said he had also got up to a little over 500 pounds which is something that shocked us because we did not realize it was that bad until the doctor weighed him. At the time everyone in my family, with the exception of one of my brothers was obese. I was only 15 at time but I weighed around 265. (I had always been overweight since moving back to the US when I was little.) Its not that no one tried to get my brother to exercise, my dad would try to take him out for walks every few days and would encourage him to eat out less but my brother just did not listen to us even though he was in pain and having some health difficulties. It may have been a very similar case with Jamaya, that people in her church and community were trying to assist her but maybe she was so emotionally distraught and stuck in her ways. And I can see her not getting psychological treatment if needed; my family is also religious and having depression or any type of emotional problem is thought of as something wrong with you and God that church can solve… which I think is a load of bs.

But anyways I hope that her death, just like my brother’s, can be some sort of inspiration for obese people in her community. In the past 7 years I’ve dropped down to 210 (65 more to go!) and my mom and other brother each lost about 100 lbs. Now we’re all just working on my dad to get him to exercise and cut back his eating.

s September 26, 2010 - 3:56 PM

as someone who is not overweight (which is due to trying to live a healthy and active lifestyle, it’s not really genetic) i generally feel uncomfortable advising or intervening with someone over their weight unless they come to me. the only time i have was with my sister, and she was angry with me, but eventually came around and has lost around 30 lbs. i think part of my rationale for waiting for someone to ask for help is that you can’t make anyone do anything consistently that they don’t want to do. people have to wake up to the realization by themselves that they are harming themselves and resolve to change it. with children, it’s even harder. i don’t have any, so i can’t say exactly what i would do, but with other people’s children, like this girl, i’m not sure i would feel comfortable intervening either.

Erika September 26, 2010 - 6:29 PM

I think that’s a tricky part.. which is why we have to “be the change we wish to see” in our communities. Let someone see how you live and how you enjoy it… let people see that there is a different way to live, and they become inspired to play with it and try it on their own.

I talk a lot about people having their “come to fitness” moment, where they realize that this is doable and worth trying for… but a lot of times people can’t have that moment without having someone to reach out to… and while for some this site serves that purpose (and I’m honored to be a part) for some, it’s really important that everyone who has learned something about wellness tries to leave themselves open to sharing with someone new.

“Intervening” could be as simple as being an ear to talk to. “How is everything? Is everything ok?” Those two questions, asked frequently, are enough to help give someone a little comfort in talking with you. It’s not “You’re getting fat, and you need to exercise more.” It’s being a friend. That’s all.

Vaughn September 26, 2010 - 4:11 PM

This is very sad indeed. This conversation is centered around weight but I know that for many of us of us eating is an emotional response to other things that are going on in our lives. That’s where the term “comfort food” comes from.

I think there is a strong possibility that Jamaya had some other issues that needed to be dealt with that manifested in her being 500 lbs. It’s possible that her emotional needs weren’t being met and she clearly didn’t get the support she required.

Weight/health issues can often be symptom, so trying to intervene with someone by talking about their “weight issue” is missing the mark.

Erika September 26, 2010 - 6:24 PM

This conversation is not “centered around weight.” This conversation identifies that there was something wrong that continued to a point where she was 500lbs.

I’m not identifying what her problem is – in fact, I implied the possibility of both a lack of knowledge as well as an emotional issue in my post – I’m saying that there WAS a problem, and it allowed her to grow to a point where she couldn’t even be saved. That is monumental… and it needs to be addressed.

Karen September 27, 2010 - 11:53 AM

For a 15 year old 500 lb girl to die like this means as far as I am concerned: PARENTAL NEGLECT.

It took many years for her to get to 500 pounds and all of those years she was a child. This means it was the RESPONSIBILITY of her parents to intervene, no matter what it takes. ANY child that is overweight is a problem and it is the parents’ or caregiver’s responsibility to intervene.

They had the time to have two foster children but could not address the issues of their own biological child…. There is definitely more to this story but whatever it is, a child is still dead…UNNECESSARILY.

Amber March 15, 2011 - 3:41 AM

I was reading this post and the subsequent comments with a mixture of horror and sadness. I don’t really have anything new to add, but I would like to say this:

@Karen – You stated, “ANY child that is overweight is a problem and it is the parents’ or caregiver’s responsibility to intervene.”

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Hypothyroiditis when I was nine years old. I was the youngest person doctors in multiple children’s hospitals, in TWO separate states, had ever seen.

As such, there was a lot of uncertainty as to how to treat me and life was very difficult (medically) for a long time. In spite of my parents forcing me to play outside and feeding me a balanced, nutritious, diet… I continued to pack on the pounds.

I thank God that many others don’t share the sentiment described in your comment quoted above. I had a wonderful childhood, with loving parents. But if Social Services or others had the same mindset as yours, it’s possible I could have been removed or whatever.

This is an extreme case that is very sad. But not ALL children that are overweight are a result of negligent parents. Please don’t judge a book by its cover and remember this the next time you see parents with an overweight kid.

Thank you!

ab January 19, 2013 - 12:58 PM

No. I don’t see how you can come to the conclusion you did from karen’s post.

She was correct, as a child any problems/issues you present require intervention by parents. That is the responsible option and that is what your parents did.

They took you to see a doctor, they loved you and ensured you had a happy childhood.

Social services would have absolutely no ability or right to remove you from your parents home as there would be a paper trail to indicate that they had done their responsible duty to you.

So yes, parents MUST and SHOULD intervene, it is not a guarantee of success but it is evidence of effort and a willingness to do the right thing to preserve the life and well being of their child

Elecia September 27, 2010 - 12:54 PM

This is an awful tragedy. My prayers go out to her family and community.

The women at my church have decided to address our obesity head-on by hosting weekly Zuumba classes and offering healthy lifestyle courses. It is time-out for playing with our health and not taking responsibilty for teaching those in our sphere of influence how to take care of themselves. So far, the classes are packed and people are starting to see results.

I have relatives that continue to behave as though they don’t believe it can happen to them. Hospitalizations, pills, shots, and disease doesn’t inspire change, and talking to them certainly doesn’t. This has been the case from childhood to adulthood. It’s incredibly frustrating.

I’m a strong believer in prayer and God’s ability to change things, but I’m also a realist – we’ve gotta put legs to those prayers and exercise and educate ourselves on how HE designed our bodies to function. Hopefully we all will be inspired to continue to change, and emboldened in our healthy lifestyle testimony.

s September 27, 2010 - 11:08 PM

@ erica- i think you’re right. i think that an open-ended invitation to talk is definitely a way to open the lines of communication, rather then directly addressing a sensitive issue (like weight) that might shut them down.

Gail October 1, 2010 - 11:10 AM

This is truly sad, I give my sympathy & prayers to this child’s family & friends and all who love her.

Lorrie February 2, 2011 - 7:48 PM

Thats a whole ‘notha issue you have stumbled upon Erika. The politics of the black church which in many ways strengthen discriminatory constructs in society. Pastors have checkered histories when it comes to choosing the ministry over being a husband and father. Everyone has heard a tragic story of a PK (preachers kid). We would have to have a theological discussion about the ordained ministry, the ministry of family first and being so busy for Christ that you forget to bring Christ to your own children. The bible gives lessons on how to live including how to eat. You are right the entire community is at fault HOWEVER, sometimes a pastoralship is too arrogant to heed the words of its congregational members.

Jasmine February 24, 2011 - 1:00 AM

I wanna know why the parents escaped without even trying to get the kids? Where they do that at? At least the boys? IDK…

Laurie September 14, 2012 - 2:39 PM

Yeah I have to agree. I don’t have children but if it was a one story house on fire and my hubby was inside you can bet I wouldn’t be waiting for the fire department to rescue him.

Maisha March 26, 2011 - 9:59 PM

This is just incredibly sad. Whatever the condition was that this girl had, it was still important for her to receive some type of care/counseling/lifestyle modification. No one deserves to die the way she did.

Stefanie August 1, 2011 - 11:31 AM

I can understand your anger in reading this story. As a mother of a growing boy (he’s 10 now), I want him to be concerned about his health, but not get caught up on looks just because society says he should look a certain way. Now that I am working towards living a healthier lifestyle (I’m currently over weight, my son is right on point), my son is paying attention to me and he too wants to eat healthier (he’s on a different path though – he wants to be Mr. Muscle Man, LOL). So, I am working harder (getting out of my own laziness) to make sure he does his exercises and eats better. For example, if he eats fried fish on Monday, Tuesday will be baked meat for sure. And, he drinks more water and milk than he does juices and soda. If water is all we have in our refrigerator, then drink up buddy!!! And I’m so grateful that the efforts I am making in my life he wants to follow. So yes, our children do mimick what we do. If we eat ‘bad’, they will pretty much follow it, unless they just know better (from being taught different things at school, etc) and if we make good choices, most of the time, they will get on board. It makes it easier to start making good choices as early as possible. The older they get, the harder it is.
In regards to the young lady in this story, so sad….500 pounds??? Someone should have gotten her help with her weight. But a lot of times, we don’t want to address the weight issue – it makes is appear ‘vain’. But we know healthy and vain are NOT the same. 500 pounds on ANYONE is unhealthy!!! But now that she is gone, I hope this is a wake up call to the parents to take care of the other two children that are growing up – and healthy living at this point starts with the head(s) of the household. It’s not easy, but it CAN be done through prayer AND desire to living better…

Cherished October 12, 2011 - 5:37 PM

So, so sad to hear this. You are right, intervention is what was needed. Intervention could have come from many places, as you mention; school church, medical care, parents, etc.

As a parent, I feel it is my responsibility to monitor my children’s (17, 17, 12) weight. No, I’m not weighing them on a scale but I do monitor what type of food I bring into the house. As far as out of the house, if I notice that they are buying too much junk out of the house, I limit their allowance or tell them they are no longer allowed to purchase. Not a perfect system, nor are my children perfect but if left to drink or eat whatever they want my children would all have heavier weights.

Tiera October 12, 2011 - 6:59 PM

She was a beautiful girl 🙁

Tremilla November 7, 2011 - 10:05 AM

This story is so sad. No child should reach this weight. Regardless of whether or not she was offered help, someone supplied the food. To know that her that was due in part to her weight should be a wake up call.

Starry December 11, 2011 - 7:35 AM

This is a real tragedy and it was with real difficulty that I read this story. I have to agree with you Erica – and most of the replies above – about someone intervening at some stage before this poor, beautiful girl got to 500lbs.

I wonder whether someone, some people, may have mentioned health and fitness to her but perhaps in a really negative way? That is what happened to me when I was younger. I was a bit overweight when I was a teenager and various members of my family regularly mentioned eating better and getting more exercise, but it was done in such a negative and demeaning way that all that it did was make me more unhappy and turn to food even more. I come from quite a big family and not one person talked to me in a positive way about becoming healthier – it was all put to me as a criticism, that it was my own stupid fault for being chubbier than others, for eating too much, and eating junk, not doing enough exercise etc (oh yes, this was despite the fact that, actually, I did two martial arts, twice per week alongside usual school sports – I did A LOT of exercise).

It has taken many, many years to get to the point whereby I am slowly gaining control over what I eat and my health in general. So, I wonder whether a similar thing happened to this lovely girl? Perhaps people did mention her weight, her health, exercise – but in a negative way? Obviously, these people aren’t going to tell the media that they might have done this. Perhaps, given time, she may have had the opportunity to heal herself and increase her health… but, tragically, she died before she had that chance.

I can’t get over just how awful this story is…. 🙁

Karen Randles December 12, 2011 - 3:15 PM

It is a tragedy! that could have been avoided, before we jump to any conclusions about the parents only , who is her Doctor? I mean we all know she could not get into school without immunization so she had to have been seeing someone for years, or was she a victom of insurance coverage issues . Everyone that she came in contact with her over her life time should be looked at! In her memory let’s get the message of health into the hands of parents now so that this will not happen again. PLEASE!

Robin December 17, 2011 - 10:50 AM

This is indeed a sad story. Sadly, we hear this type of story all too often. Obesity related complications leading to death. As a licensed counselor and a minister, I see this tragedy in a different light. It takes more than healthy eating and getting exercise for a morbidly obese individual. There was something going on with the young lady that apparently, no one was able to reach, or cared to try. I work in the addictions field and I see this tragedy daily. I don’t know her story, but I do know that food had become her coping mechanism to make her life more palatable. We can wear the smiles and be the sweet, wonderful person everyone sees, but deep inside there’s a story that may never be heard.

Cassandre February 2, 2012 - 10:56 PM

this is so sad and this in day in age where there is so much information about eating healthy and weight loss is sincerely saddens me that this young woman lost her life in this way.. yes, we don’t know what the causes were that led her to be 500LBs, (medical or emotional issues), but nonetheless there was a clear lack of education and knowledge on the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.. i pray for her family for their lost.. may she RIP.. truly sad

Alison February 4, 2012 - 8:32 PM

This is such a sad story. Her friends and family are in my thoughts and prayers … but does bring to light a problem. I am on my own health journey (which I prefer to use instead of weight loss journey) and I find it hard to discuss it with friends. We have superficial conversations on what to wear to the gym or how bad my hair gets after a cardio class, but a real discussion on why I am doing this and the true benefits has not happened. Sadly, for it to happen, some of my plus-size friends would have to acknowledge that I am unhealthy and need to do something about it. If I am unhealthy, they would be unhealthy also ….
As I get healthier I am starting to learn things about nutrition and exercise. I struggle with .. do I talk to my friends about this? I don’t want to come off as overbearing or preachy …. Stories like this, although difficult, may be just what we need to have a true conversation on health and overall wellbeing.

Gretch February 16, 2012 - 12:39 PM

I appreciate your perspective and sensitivity of both you and your readers (that i read). The deck is really stacked against kids in this “war on obesity” in more ways than i care to go into. Expecting them to fight on their own without intervention is just plain cold.

Annette May 19, 2012 - 8:30 PM

I am sadden that she was unable to get out, yet let’s not make up stories in our heads about what wasn’t done or what was done. Or her situation. I don’t know what was going on in the family. Truly don’t know her story. How do you know if that didn’t happen, and she was slowly loosing weight and turning her life around. We know none of that are we filling in the missing pieces with our own story.

We don’t know anything but if she had friends or members that reached out to her, but it is a wake up call to reach out. Yet we don’t know everything I can’t rush to judgement.

I can talk about myself a lot of people reached out, and I got great results yet it was my mother that shut them down. She became jealous, and upset with the other folks at the church and backed off. She didn’t want to have to support me. She was very upset about it caused a huge argument with my mother and a church deacon, and grandmother. Maybe because it showed her up that they were more supportive and loving to me than my own mother.

Maybe starting their own community garden if they can’t afford veges. Invite Weight Watchers or have evening exercise programs at the church. Yet I am not sure what was done. But I would look into those two foster kids. I don’t understand how a mother and father can leave their own child behind. Also this is a wake up call to make sure you have multiple emergency exits for every member if there is a fire. Yet in confusion people chose self preservation.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 22, 2012 - 2:17 PM

It’s one thing if she were 200 or even 300lbs.

She was 500lbs, and unable to save herself from a fire. I think it’s safe to say that there’s a lot of things that simply were NOT going on.

Barb July 13, 2012 - 1:30 PM

I have been reading your blog for sometime but today I really felt the need to respond. It was upsetting to read about the death of this beautiful young lady. I have someone in my life who is over 300lbs and I have tried over the years to get him to understand that he needed to make a change. It wasn’t until I began exercising and changing my eating that he began to slowly make changes.

Erika, you are correct when you said
“let it emanate from everything we do, and let our loved ones watch the benefits we reap until they decide it’s time for them to enjoy those same benefits.”

My change inspired his and now we both are on the path to better health and that has brought us closer together.

DF November 13, 2012 - 2:16 PM

Incidents like this are indicative of our entire society. No one wants to take responsibility for their own wellbeing. I’m not talking just about the weight issue because that is secondary in my view. This young girl didn’t need to die regardless of what she weighed. It’s easy to blame her parents for allowing her to become akin to a baby elephant but that is only part of the issue. If you have a family member with special weigh needs your first priority is seeing to those needs. In Jamaya’s case her parents should have provided a proper escape route for her in the event of something like this. They should have provided her with access to a scubapak and at the very least a place of refuge to await proper rescue. Furthermore why couldn’t fire fighters have provided her with a breathing pack so that smoke inhalation wouldn’t have been an issue? This isn’t rocket science; saving a 500lb person is the same as saving a 200lb person. To be honest this story kind of hits home for me. My wife is just shy of 700lbs and my three daughters ages 11, 13, and 16 range in weight from 250 to 500lbs. in all cases we have developed a plan in the event of an emergency like this. During the recent storm here on the east coast our neighborhood severely flooded and several houses on the block were destroyed from gas explosions and I was still able to get my wife and children to safety. It wasn’t easy and it took quite a bit of effort from me and family members to evac my wife and oldest daughter but the precautions we had in place before disaster struck made all the difference. People have to realize that with the ballooning weight of our population, special accommodations for people of size are required, especially in emergency circumstances. You have to take personal responsibility for your families safety no matter what size you or your loved ones are, it’s that simple.
Jamaya’s parents probably should have paid more attention to her eating habits just as I should have with my families eating but there is really no good excuse for not seeing to her physical safety. I know a lot of people placed in severe situations like this would rather ignore the immediate problem but when it comes to a loved one’s life you can’t afford to ignore it. A family plan of action is needed in the event of an emergency in every home and a home containing a person or people of size are especially venerable to the consequences of not having one. This beautiful young girl’s death is a direct result of the kind of negligence that so many people, big and small are guilty of. I’m sorry but all this weight blaming is really misplaced; her death could have been avoided regardless of her size.

bisdelish March 12, 2013 - 7:42 AM

Honestly, I think this girl (RIP) is alot like us (people trying to lose weight or if not anything alot like me!). ‘There is a saying that you can take the horse to the water but you cant make it drink it’. Im sure there was a endless list of people who told her to cut back, to exercise, give advice, etc, but all that is pointless if the person does NOT want to change or willing to put in the hard work necessary to change.

I have people tell me all the time to lose weight, my mum always telling me the benefit of something, she even offers to pay for my gym membership (which I have but do not use), my auntie saw me and told me to try hard, uncles, even my bestfriends. Do I change NO, I just put on more weight (reaching 300 pounds and only 20) is because I don’t want to, no I do I swear. Why dont I change? because it’s Hard, is that an excuse no but it is mine. It takes hard work to say no to the chocolate and takeaways, it take hard work in the gym and it takes time. I yoyo alot and when I do lose weight I eventually put it all back on and more! I will finally lose the weight but as of now, im being honest, its an uphill battle that is currently kicking my behide.

P.S my point here is that everyone so quick to blame people instead of blaming themselves or the actual person. she was not 2 but a teenager she know what she did not need to eat and im very sure someone or at the very least a handful of people told her. YOU CAN ONLY CHANGE YOU.

Natasha March 12, 2013 - 8:09 AM

This is a tragedy. When my daughter was 13 she was about 5’7 and 180 pounds. I took her to a personal trainer for kids and that helped a little. When she started High School she started to run in PE and she often skipped lunch and lost 30 pounds. She is now 5’9 and about 170 pounds. She is very conscious of her health and she does well to maintain her weight. Parents have to take control and be role models, cook and plan activites for their kids.

Makayla March 12, 2013 - 8:47 AM

Listen folks…I was a 400lb., fairly happy & well adjusted teenager. My 1st diet was at age 9. By age 16, I had done hospital based diets, Weight watchers, Cambridge, Atkins…any & everything. You CANNOT assume no one tried to help her…even herself. This is a pointless and offensive discussion! Some people will struggle with super morbid obesity their whole lives, myself included. This doesn’t mean you can assume that they don’t TRY. I lost 252lbs in 01. Gradually regained 100lbs. (while being physically active–mind you) Lost 50lbs…and now bounce up and down that last 50. My physician and I have discovered my body WILL GAIN without 60 minutes of exercise daily and a diet of under 1100 calories. My metabolism is a struggle that you can’t identify by looking at me. AND…none of you know anything about hers. Save your armchair judgments. Count your blessings that you know NOTHING of her struggle…and try having a more open mind when t comes to someone’s obesity. You have no idea what efforts they may or may not be making…but I guarantee that your bias and prejudices don’t make their journey any easier. I’m just sorry hers got cut off so prematurely.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 12, 2013 - 9:46 AM

I’m going to push back on this; not because I don’t believe in the ability to be a happy 400lb teenager, but on this idea that people “want to be” or “have to be” super morbid obese their entire lives. And that’s not good ol’ fashioned fat-hating talk, it’s pushing back on this idea that people have embraced that is self-defeatist instead of empowering.

And I know it’s hard to toe the line between legitimate discussion and fat-hatred, so let me be clear: when I say this, it is not my aim to be disrespectful or insensitive. No buts.

Your physicians are not trained in weight loss or weight management, and you are actually MORE LIKELY to damage your metabolism by taking advice from the average physician than anyone else. Period. And THIS is why people believe they are “destined” to be obese forever. Bad advice from people you EXPECT to have the knowledge, who don’t. If you’ve been working out for 11 years and you STILL have to do an hour of cardio and a 1100 calorie diet at 151lbs… you are doing something absolutely wrong. And I say that with love.

The reality of all of this is that there are any number of things that could’ve been done before someone reached 500lbs. What about therapy? What about a dietician who specialized in food addiction? What about a trainer? 500lbs…as a teen… as someone EXPERIENCED with this kind of thing, I can tell you a LOT of things that make no assumptions about her, but a LOT of assumptions about the people responsible for her care and SAFETY. And NONE of it matters because now, she is GONE. NEGLIGENCE. ALL. AROUND.

Mishala March 12, 2013 - 8:56 AM

First, I agree with you about the parents. There is no way, in any kind of situation, I’m leaving my child behind to get myself to safety. It’s not happening.

I also think that without knowing her whole story, I can’t really say anything. I do feel, though, that if she was over five hundred pounds, regardless of her circumstances, there should have been some type of emergency plan. I have an aunt who was once in the 400’s due to health issues. A difficult person to move in an emergency if she was having a bad day and couldn’t move much herself. But there were always plans of action for something like that. I just don’t see how this should have happened. If you know someone has special circumstances, you plan for them.

Anita March 17, 2013 - 3:53 AM

I really don’t mean to harp, and I do know how stories don’t always get reported accurately, however, how the parents ran out the of house without first checking on their children is beyond me. They knew or should have known that the daughter was unable to move without assistance. The comment made about an “emergency plan” was right on the money! That plan should have started long before 500 lbs, and a teenager’s loss of mobility.

Jb March 12, 2013 - 10:38 AM

I think it is more fast foods , not traditional soul food ( yams, greens , black eyed peas etc ). That causes this kind of obesity. Most people don’t even cook these soul food dinners daily.

Stephanie Webster March 12, 2013 - 11:43 AM

My only question is how do you know no one tried to help her?

Erika Nicole Kendall March 12, 2013 - 1:31 PM

Well, a 500lb weight as a teenager is a pretty good signifier. Any number of interventions – including bariatric surgery – could’ve stopped her from at least getting to a weight where she couldn’t even save herself.

You guys are interpreting this as shade or fat-hatred. Stop that. She could’ve been 300lbs instead of 500, and this would’ve still been a rant about her being unable to save herself. She could’ve been 100lbs, this could’ve been the zombie apocalypse, and this would’ve STILL been a rant about her being unable to save herself by outrunning the zombies. And, if she were either 300lbs or 100lbs and a teenager unable to save herself, I would’ve blamed EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN HER LIFE.

Sannimaria March 12, 2013 - 5:48 PM

I am deeply saddened by this tragic story.
This reminds me of when I was a teenager and my overweight mother was depressed and tired and almost ate herself into her grave. My family intervened to help her. We didn’t come out and say anything, we just made her a part of it. For Mother’s Day, her 7 kids bought her warm-up suits and jogging shoes, my sister walked with her on the Lakefront, I prepared large healthy salads and less sugary drinks, my oldest brother demonstrated how to use free weights, Mom was afraid she would lose all this weight and have the flab behind. If she was too lazy to walk, she did yoga. The point I’m trying to make is that we all did something to help her. That’s our mom. She went from 290 lbs all of 5feet, to about a solid 160 lbs. It took about a year and a half. Mom lost all that weight and was able to get off her High blood pressure medicines. She wanted to give up, and go back to unhealthy eating, feeling sorry for herself- but we wouldn’t let her. The point is, you just do it. Don’t make excuses, don’t make a plan, just do what you normally do and make small changes. Swap out red meat for turkey and fish, include more vegetables, drink tomatoe juice instead of Kool-aid. Some people don’t like to run, walk briskly instead. there is something everyone can do, but it has to start somewhere.

SB March 17, 2013 - 2:09 AM

Honestly I was shocked the fire dept attempted to carry her out at all, so their effort should be appreciated and hopefully the family is grateful they tried

SW March 17, 2013 - 2:16 AM

Sad story. I heard about it before this blog post and it is a sad reality for many people: they are very obese and it is a problem. Americans have come to accept obesity in many ways so it’s not just her community or her parents that are culpable. It’s all of us.

Nik March 17, 2013 - 2:23 AM

Someone MIGHT have been trying to help her, but she ignored it. I know a woman who preaches to her overweight teenage daughter all the time about eating healthy foods. She even cooks more healthy meals for her. But the young lady has access to junk food when the mother isn’t around. She stashes candy in her bedroom to eat in private. I need to know more about her life before I blame EVERYONE.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 17, 2013 - 8:49 AM

She’s a teenager. There’s only but so much that they can “ignore.”

I’ve already offered my thoughts on “people with overweight children.” Their habits didn’t come from nowhere.

Ceej March 17, 2013 - 2:24 AM

Hmm… I’m extremely hesitant to say it was other folks responsibility to stop her from gaining so much weight. We don’t know if they tried to help her to no avail. Or if their version of “help” was teasing, bullying, and verbal abuse. she could have been an emotional eater. She could have been a victim of sexual/physical abuse. There are far more psychological reasons people have EDs/are overweight that have NOTHING to do with hunger.

I really feel that asking “what could have been done to stop her from being 500lbs?” we are blaming the victim. and i’m…. uncomfortable with that notion.

Ceej March 17, 2013 - 2:33 AM

However I do agree that we can and must do more to help those around us who may be struggling with weight. But we have to be careful to do it in a non-judgmental way. I cannot tell you how many well-meaning folks say the most hurtful things. “Ohh girl you are getting FAT!” People that are overweight/gaining weight KNOW they are overweight/gaining weight. It’s not news to them. And some of us don’t need to be reminded that other people notice our weight gain, too. Because we already feel bad enough about ourselves.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 17, 2013 - 8:39 AM

She’s a minor; people are still legally responsible for her. Asking “what could have been done” is not victim blaming. It’s responsible, forward-thinking parenting.

Kids make jacked up mistakes. It’s our responsibility as caregivers to steer them where they need to go, devoid of ego and prejudice.

Angie S March 17, 2013 - 4:10 AM

Your anger is understandable and appropriate. But in reality I understand how difficult it must have been for many to approach this young lady. As African Americans we have a tendency to tell people to mind their own business when they attempt to tell us about things we don’t want to hear or talk about. If her father was a respected preacher in the community – people might have been afraid of crossing this family – perhaps the church would ostracize them if they were perceived to be “putting their nose where it didn’t belong”. Weight is a very touch subject. I’m sure there are many that feel guilty. As a society we use food to soothe and comfort us. In addition, we have no idea of what was going on in the home. As others have said – its not easy to become 500 pounds. There’s no doubt food was an escape for her – but an escape from what?? We’ll probably never know. As the saying goes it wasn’t what she was eating but what was eating her?? This family had issues. As a former fatty – still fighting the good fight – believe me, I know.
So yes, we can be angry. But lets remember, being morbidly obese, or super obese as this young woman was is about so much more than food. The whole family needed to be treated. I see people writing how she could have just substituted water instead of kool aide and this instead of that – blah, blah, blah. This is rubbish when you are feeling fat and unloved and overwhelmed. It’s not easy and you feel defeated before you even start. I know it and you do too. We’ve both fought the long battle of weight loss. I can’t even imagine being 15 and doing it.
Let’s remember that for young people, it really does take a village. That’s why our First Lady Michelle Obama is working so hard to change schools and help kids grow gardens and learn healthy eating habits. It takes communities bringing in stores that sell healthy options and making the healthy foods just as inexpensive as the unhealthy ones. Why is it a McDonalds salad is 5-6 dollars, but a rotten double cheese burger is a dollar?? Something is wrong with this society! And we wonder why we keep getting fatter?! thanks for letting me rant. And thank you for sharing this story. May Jamaya RIP.

Terri March 17, 2013 - 6:55 AM

I was not going to comment, but I am a parent in this situation. My daughter is not 500 pounds, but her weight concerns me to the point that I am willing to do anything to help her. I take responsibility for her eating habits, because as a PARENT, I helped form those HABITS! I cannot step back now and say I can’t help because she won’t listen. I have changed my life in an effort to help my child. ONLY whole, healthy food in reasonable portions (for everyone) in my house! Walks and bike rides are the routine! I may not be able to “force” my teenager to change, but I refuse to harm her any further. For those who don’t like the idea of holding parents accountable- I am sorry if you don’t want to hear this-you are wrong. They are fully responsible for that child’s health and well being. They should have taken action long before she reached 500 pounds.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 17, 2013 - 8:20 AM

Ahhh, yeah. This is for you.

Lisa McCall March 17, 2013 - 7:53 AM

I get it… I hear ya… someone should have stepped in… but how do we know they didn’t? How do we know that someone didn’t tell this child that something had to change? Quite simply – we don’t. Food addiction is as real as alcohol or drug addiction. And quite frankly… until the addict chooses a different way – nothing will change. I see people say her parents abused her… yet had they padlocked the refrigerator door we’d be saying the same thing. And I understand she is a child and so her food choices are not hers alone… but an addict at any age will go to extreme measures to reach their drug of choice. If you think for a second she wasn’t hiding food, sneaking it, and even stealing to get her fixes – you’re not ready to address what an addict will really do… After 20 years of trying to intervene and convince my dad who has struggled with alcohol addiction his whole life, I’ve learn that until there is a change in the heart of the addict there are no words that can be said and no amount of tears cried that will make the difference. Just like we all had to decide for ourselves to change what we eat and how much we move to change our lives. Why didn’t you change it 20 lbs earlier? You didn’t because even though you knew something had to change, your heart wasn’t in it to do the things that needed to be done for true change to happen. While my heart mourns for this teen and her parents, I cannot say they didn’t try to save her life. But we can say sadly that her heart wasn’t into saving her own. God makes no mistakes. He brought His angel home, so that you could write this blog, and change the hearts of many. It is unfortunate it must happen at the expense of one precious child. May God bless her soul and comfort her grieving community.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 17, 2013 - 8:36 AM

“I get it… I hear ya… someone should have stepped in… but how do we know they didn’t? How do we know that someone didn’t tell this child that something had to change? Quite simply – we don’t.”

Yes, we do. She made it to 500lbs. This is not 300lbs. It’s not even 400lbs. It’s five. Hundred.

“Food addiction is as real as alcohol or drug addiction. And quite frankly… until the addict chooses a different way – nothing will change.”

No. Food addiction in children is, plain and simple, incomparable to food addiction in adults. A child in a home with two adults serving the role as guardian is WAY more supported than an adult out in the world on their own. No comparison. No contest.

You guys are personalizing this story instead of looking at the realities of it. People responsible for a child allowed her to be in a position where she couldn’t even save herself in a fire. Period. It has nothing to do with you or your loved ones.

Dmoniq March 17, 2013 - 8:32 AM

This is a sad story. Dying in a fire is at the top of my Worst Fears list. After skimming thru some if theses responses, I don’t recall a family member or close friend giving any insight to this young lady’s personal life. How do u assume no one tried to help her or even she tried to help herself? These comments are the saddest part of the story. This insults the same people u claim to be praying for and wishing well. They lost a valuable part of their family. Least we can do is to allow he soul to rest in peace knowing she was loved and she will be remembered for her accomplishments in life rather than her weight.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 17, 2013 - 8:48 AM

“How do u assume no one tried to help her or even she tried to help herself?”

I’m not answering this question anymore. Read the comments.

honey March 17, 2013 - 8:41 AM

We cannot assume no one “tried to reach her”…teens have mental illnesses just like adults…that accusation is an insult. As you may not know, teens rebel, and she can “feed” at many places outside the home!!!! I know it first hand, through personal experiences. Let’s not assume those parents and loved ones haven’t done all they can (short of FORCING her to have gastric bypass????), to teach or reach her. I am very sad for them all and pray that this real-life event will lead to someone else’s enlightenment. May she rest in His Peace.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 17, 2013 - 8:46 AM

You’re absolutely right it’s an insult.

Anything other than “my condolences” is going to be an insult.

I’m really not here for patting on the back someone who ran out of a house without attempting to help the child that THEY raised who became 500lbs. *giant shrug*

Dee March 17, 2013 - 10:04 AM

Yes, this is a very sad story, but lets not pretend it a new story. I am a new nurse who works in a hospital south of Atlanta. It is here that you see the effect that obesity and unhealthy diets are having on the effects of Americans of all colors. Diabetes is killing us slowly, and this can be translated to our “diet” is killing us. But, be aware it starting to speed up. I am consistently seeing patients who are in their 30’s who are in renal failure, HF, kidney disease, getting toes then feet then legs amputated. We have to stop making excuses and start making changes. We can’t wait for government to stop companies from selling us surgery foods or drinks. Stop buying them! Stop killing your children! Obesity in children is on the Rise! Diabetes in Children is on the Rise! As parents we have to be examples, we have to show our Children how live better healthier lives.

Twyla March 17, 2013 - 10:59 AM

Regarding all the comments on “how do you know they didn’t try to help, or that she didn’t try to help herself”:

She was 15 years old.

Unless she was independently wealthy, every bite she ate was provided for her in some way or another. She was provided for by her parents and her community.

If she had a medical condition that made it impossible for her to not keep gaining and impossible to lose, then medical attention was NOT provided, or not in a quantity sufficient to help her.

If she had no medical condition, then whatever happened to her to send her off into the mental and emotional disturbance necessary to cause a 15 year old to balloon up to 500 pounds WAS provided to her. By her family and community. Perhaps only one person in the form of abuse, but still: family and community.

Something went very, deeply, pathologically wrong with this beautiful girl. And if her family and community didn’t cause it, they certainly didn’t try to remedy it, and like I said: unless she was independently wealthy, they enabled it.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 17, 2013 - 11:27 AM

They don’t hear you, tho. They don’t.

Concerned WOman March 17, 2013 - 11:16 AM

Honestly, this is very sad for many reaosn. 1. the gilr was huge as a teenager. How????? 2. How can you run out of a burning house as a parent and leave your children? I am not a parent but i am assuming i would even try to sacrifice my life to atleast TRY to save my child’s life. I think the reason why obesity is such an issue is because people are afraid to call it waht it is. FAT!. She was FAT!. Simple. Not even fat but OBESE. Let us use the terms and not sugar coat things just to spare feelings. Sparing feelings is costing lives. I don’t believe in making others feel worthless or not important but lets call a spade a spade and not a big spoon.

Marin August 3, 2013 - 2:01 PM

Stories like this break my heart. They actually make me seek guidance on how to intervene in situations like this. I recently lost my stepdad to obesity related complications (he was over 400 pounds), and I have watched high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease plague many close to me.
I have a couple of very close girlfriends who struggle with weight. Both have had lapband surgeries, but have put weight back on. I have gently offered to take a walk along the lake instead of our usual “girlfriend dinners”, offered to cook (so I can introduce healthier recipes, and invited them to health and wellness events with me.
I even shared about my journey back to being my best (at my heaviest I was a size 12, but am now a size 8), which included learning new recipes, joining running clubs, and walking instead of using public transportation as much as possible.
Recently one of them snapped at me and said “You talk to us like you know! Don’t you get it?! You go on and on about your journey as if size 12 was big! To us you will always be the skinny bitch!” I was stunned silent. I thought I was helping. But I also blinked back tears, as I am watching someone I love like a sister teeter back towards 300 pounds.
I’d love any advice on this.
Prayers to Jamaya’s entire family for this loss.

Annette August 4, 2013 - 3:49 PM

I don’t know what I can offer in terms of advice. I was treated badly by my family. I was the overweight one. Yet there was still blood pressure issues in my family.

Until I had digestive issues where I couldn’t eat my favorite food that was when I changed my diet. It’s about free will. The best example is to do what you need to do for you. Maintain the healthy lifestyle. You cannot force anyone. It’s about loving yourself enough to want the best for yourself. Putting yourself first, then others.

The weight is just a manifestation of issues in their life. Most think that this is how it is they are born this way can’t lose weight. I know for me to maintain I need to dig deep and deal with my fears and issues to release hurt and pain I carry.

Please don’t feel personally attacked and take it into heart or feel guilty. We are all born with free will, and the opportunity to change our circumstances. I truly believe that. They need to want it enough. Sometimes when the universe gives you a nudge and you don’t take it a rock falls on you. They will have their own come to Jesus moment when they choose. In the meantime will you be able to maintain your weight and lifestyle in this group of friends?

Just be supportive and don’t take it personally if you reject your help. Maybe have a talk about how you feel and how concerned you are and scared about the weight and health issues.

If it about health instead of how I look in a dress or getting down to a certain size I feel they might be more receptive. Being a certain size don’t make you health also it’s less stressful to shoot of a particular appearance. Hope I helped.

Tiffany August 5, 2013 - 4:32 PM

This is so sad. I had to rewind the last part of the video clip a few times because I thought she said “active in life” but she said “active in church”. I know there are some churches now, big and small, that have a “wellness ministry”, even if all they do is walk around the block a few times a day, for some of the members it’s more exercise than they would normally get. I think the fact that the parents just left out of the house without their children says alot. I don’t know the layout of the house, the master bedroom may have been near the front of the house while the children’s bedrooms was near the back but I know that something is really off if there’s a fire and you just leave your kids in the house. I think this may have been a case where, maybe the young lady “hid it” well. Maybe she dressed in clothes where you couldn’t really tell her size, or maybe people just didn’t think it was that bad. I can’t find a reason behind letting a teenager grow to be that size and not doing something.

afiya August 21, 2014 - 9:18 AM

I hate this article, yes for its tragedy but also the author’s attitude and repeated and insensitive comments afterwards. Yes, assumptions were made and just because you lost a few pounds and struggled with weight issues in your life does not mean your experience is the same for everyone else. We can all agree that losing weight is not easy. And I am 100% positive someone has said something to this child about her weight at one point in her life and they may have even offered to help. How many times have I heard people publicly shame an overweight person because they “think” they are helping?
I can’t see a teenager ballooning to 500lbs without there being other underlying issues. This article could have been written much better. Why not offer ways in which a community could have helped this child maintain a healthy lifestyle despite family health issues and or even mental issues. Instead, I wasted time reading an article about accusations!

Erika Nicole Kendall August 21, 2014 - 1:37 PM


“I hate this article, yes for its tragedy but also the author’s attitude and repeated and insensitive comments afterwards.”

There are over a thousand posts on this blog displaying compassion and support for all of us in this fight. But to overlook your child – a MINOR – becoming unable to support herself in an emergency… that SHOULD be grounds for outrage.

“Yes, assumptions were made and just because you lost a few pounds and struggled with weight issues in your life does not mean your experience is the same for everyone else.”

Of course it’s not. It’s not even about the weight – a young woman’s life was LOST because she couldn’t rescue herself. You don’t HAVE to be sub-250 in order to counter that. But you need to be able to counter that.

“And I am 100% positive someone has said something to this child about her weight at one point in her life and they may have even offered to help.”

….but you follow that up with this:

“I can’t see a teenager ballooning to 500lbs without there being other underlying issues.”

So, what do you think was happening? She was a preacher’s kid – do you think her family was against therapy? Do you think that there weren’t people involved in her potential rescue that were traumatized by their inability to help her?

Listen….listen. I am ALL for compassionate response to helping the living – they have to LIVE, hopefully free of shame and guilt – but she is GONE because of this, and we need to collectively look at one another and figure out how to support each other so that this NEVER happens again. I am ALL for suggestions of polishing my language, but I’m not going to ignore the obvious just because it makes the people who are LIVING feel better. Screw that. Be mad at me all you want – no more people should be dying from this foolishness.

afiya August 21, 2014 - 2:41 PM

As someone (I think) mentioned before, maybe the outrage should be directed at the facts surrounding Fire safety. Maybe the family was wrong for not supplying an escape plan for their daughter understanding her condition. Maybe if the home was equipped with fire alarms she could have gotten out of the house on time. (If this was even the case).
My brother is morbidly obese and has mental issues. He has been to a nutritionist, a doctor, my mother has put him on a diet and carefully shops for healthy alternatives to EVERYTHING. It got to the point where she has locked the refrigerator so he wouldn’t “steal” food at night. Still that doesn’t help. He bargains for food at his program, he steals and collects coins from the washer room to buy junk. He eats in hiding, he stores food in hiding places. At one point, I caught him rifling through the garbage for a piece of birthday cake I once threw in the garbage. Physical activity is painful for him, walking a few blocks is a struggle. Even so, my mom still tries to engage him in physical activity. She is also single and doing this pretty much by herself. He’s lost significant weight and has also gained weight. There have been set backs and success. With that said, if something were to happen like this (god forbid) and someone decides to write a blog explaining how his mother failed him b/c she didn’t try…EXCUSE ME if I get a little upset. I have no idea what was going on in that young woman’s household, but I would not be so quick to judge.

Erika Nicole Kendall August 21, 2014 - 4:25 PM

You know what, sis? I am sorry that my words hit you in such a personal way at such a time. No one likes to judge, and I certainly wouldn’t want someone to feel judged by my words. As writers, we always try to think of the myriad ways our words would affect others, and I never anticipated this particular angle. If anything, I wrote like I could be the person who passed away, because I went so many years without the right kind of support.

I’m not a fan of trying to “diagnose” or “help” people unsolicited, so I’ll just say thank you for sharing your story with us, and reminding us to always use a compassionate lens when we talk about others. I hope you’ll accept my sincerest apology.

Nikki S May 25, 2016 - 9:04 AM

Ok. This post makes me angry on so many levels. First and foremost, are we really fat-shaming a child who died in a fire? Really? How about having some compassion for a grieving family who just lost their child? Is that too much to ask? Second, whether she was healthy or not, fat or thin, she had a right to exist and so to point out her weight in an article describing her demise not only disrespects her memory, but it sends a dangerous message that fat people cannot escape fat shaming, even in death. Who are you to judge her lifestyle? What do you know about her life and her health? Nothing! You only know what you read in an article. You are not her doctor and you have no idea what she has gone through in her life, so to speculate on why she is 500 lbs and to shame her family for not doing enough for her is disgusting and shows ignorance on your part. And people wonder why fat people are afraid to go to the doctor in the first place. It’s because they are afraid of being judged by people like yourselves for simply existing in a fat body. Your blog claims to be about health and yet by simply writing this post, you are contributing to the poor mental health of fat people everywhere, but especially fat people of color who are often the victims of this kind of ableist and privileged bullshit. I read a lot about how fat people just need to get healthier but I read very little about the barriers to access to adequate healthcare for fat people. We are treated like garbage when we even attempt to seek out medical care, and then we are not believed when we talk about our lifestyles. It is assumed, just by looking at us, that we are lazy, unmotivated, dirty, and that we eat “bad” foods on a regular basis. Let’s get one thing straight: everyone is entitled to exist in whatever body they have and should not be shamed into changing it because others don’t want to look at it. And that’s assuming that we can change it. The diet and weight loss industry makes millions of dollars a year convincing us that our body will never be good enough and we buy into it. Despite the fact that there has been no scientific study that proves weight loss works for more than a handful of people for longer than 5 years. Weight loss is not a treatment option; it is a dead end for most people and can even be more dangerous than some people believe. In fact healthy habits are a much better predictor of health than weight. The bottom line is that weight is not a barometer by which to judge someone’s health, intelligence, employment worthiness, right to life, or anything else. We should respect each other’s right to life and just let everyone live the way they choose to live. Period.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 25, 2016 - 10:20 AM

No, we’re not fat-shaming a child.

This post is so frustrating for me because I don’t think there are any right answers, and I think this post points out some things that are really complicated and simplifies them in offensive ways.

You aren’t saying anything I haven’t said before. You also aren’t acknowledging that we, as caregivers, have a duty to protect and support and provide resources to those in our charge. She was a victim of perpetual neglect—as important as it is to provide empathy to this child, something I agree with you 100% on—and ultimately succumbed to the neglect of her caregivers. She could not save herself. That needs to be focused on by ALL of us, as caregivers—we need to find compassionate and empathetic ways to connect with the people we love and provide them what they need when they WANT it and when they are ready to take the necessary steps to move forward.

I agree with the fact that this is fat-shaming, because we don’t use people with names and faces as mascots for causes. It forces us to look at their lives and judge them. I’m not budging on the fact that as caregivers, as community, we have to find compassionate ways to create the space necessary for people to admit they need help, and that’s not just with weight. That’s with mental health. That’s with unhealthy relationships. That’s with MANY things. I didn’t say that right, here. I know that now.

I’ve also always known about how fat people—specifically black women who are overweight—are judged—I’ve been talking about it for years. I’ve also said that, for fat people who DO decide of their own accord that they want to lose, they couldn’t get their help they need because a) their doctors have their own hangups about body image-theirs or others– and b) doctors aren’t trained to approach these things with empathy and c) they for damn sure aren’t trained in weight loss.

Look, I get it. I truly do. I also believe that, although this isn’t the way I’d have this conversation knowing what I know NOW, we have to talk about ways to create safe spaces to talk about our needs with people who can help us fulfill them. This particular post should stand as an example of how NOT to have it.

PS: You’re literally quoting something I wrote a few weeks ago. Thank goodness for the ability to evolve and grow, right?

Nikki S May 25, 2016 - 10:45 AM

I appreciate your willingness to admit that your past thoughts and judgments were a part of a false narrative. However, I still think you are missing the point I am trying to make about her caregivers. We have no idea if they were trying their best or not but I do know that being black contributes to lack of access to many things that could help us, like mental health care and access to healthy foods. From just a few minutes of research, I discovered that the city in which Jamaya and her family lived was 65% AA and had a median annual income of $38K. From those statistics alone, I could wager a guess that her family lived in a food desert and didn’t have regular access to healthy foods. I could also wager a guess that they didn’t have regular access to pleasant movement opportunities in their neighborhood. But I don’t know her family and hence, I do not know what “doing their best” means for them. There are so many factors to take into consideration here and I find it hard to ignore one key factor: the firefighters were not trained properly or given proper equipment to deal with people of size. But aside from all that, I do agree that we need to care for each other but we can’t do that by placing blame and making judgments without knowing the details of the situation. After all, how can we seek out resources for our loved ones when we don’t know what is available to us and what isn’t? It’s easy for us to say “oh they should have gotten help for their daughter” but how do we know that they didn’t and failed due to circumstances beyond their control? What if she had a disease that caused perpetual weight gain no matter what she did? But even if all these things are untrue, what right do we have to tell fat people that because we don’t have the equipment necessary to save them, they are the ones that need to change? Because that’s what it seems like to me and I find it deplorable that instead of trying to fight for adequate training for firefighters and better equipment for them to use in these situations, we are blaming a victim’s family for her death simply because she exists in a fat body.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 25, 2016 - 11:10 AM

“We have no idea if they were trying their best or not but I do know that being black contributes to lack of access to many things that could help us, like mental health care and access to healthy foods.”

You’re right. We don’t know.

“But even if all these things are untrue, what right do we have to tell fat people that because we don’t have the equipment necessary to save them, they are the ones that need to change?”

This, I think, needs push back. Both sides need to change. We need equipment that helps these people do their jobs, and we need people to be capable of saving themselves-a quality that very well may not require weight loss, and I say that as a trainer.

“[…] we are blaming a victim’s family for her death simply because she exists in a fat body.”

This isn’t quite accurate—we ALWAYS look at the caregiver when children are harmed in house fires. Always. This particular case caught MY eye because of the size component. Not disagreeing with the premise, just pointing this out in particular.

And, yeah….there’s almost 1,700 posts on this blog; this one is one of three I wish I’d never written.

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