If you’ve been online recently, you’ve probably seen a story via thelocalvoice.net titled “Oxford Artist’s House Burned—Lost EVERYTHING Except His Life.” The title is not misleading; around 3 am on December 12, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. loft apartments housing Keelan Stokes were engulfed in flames. By the time the firefighters were able to get the blaze under control, virtually all that remained were the “fire walls” between apartments and at the back of the house.
I spoke to Keelan at length after the fire and he says if he hadn’t gotten out when he did, he would have been unable to leave. The fire spread rapidly from an adjoining apartment through the floors and ceilings, including his flaming wooden porch—the only thing standing between him and safety; soon after he escaped, the porches all caved in. He had woken up to the sound of the adjacent apartment’s front glass breaking from the heat, and he ran for safety. Keelan escaped wearing the clothes on his back and his phone in hand, dialing 911.
He says the firefighters took about ten minutes to arrive, and that they worked as hard as they possibly could to keep the house from burning. They gave him a blanket and some orange slipper-shoes from LCDC—two items he would cling to in the next few hours to keep his sanity. He would like to thank the firemen most of all, for their kindness and for helping him dig through the rubble of his smoldering home to find a few remnants of his things. They unearthed his favorite Kangol hat, and the dragon ring and yin yang necklace he’s worn for years.
Keelan believes that an unattended candle in the apartment next door was responsible for the blaze. His neighbors had a visit from law enforcement earlier in the day to quiet a domestic dispute. Later that night, the dispute allegedly escalated to a physical altercation and both were remanded into custody. Keelan thinks a candle was forgotten in the hustle of the arrests and later ignited the apartments.
The house is owned by Rogers & Ott, and Keelan says that Dean Ott quickly found him several apartments to look at. Hopefully, he will have a new place to live by January. Until then, he will be staying some friends he refers to as his “Oxford family.” They’ve given him plenty of space, and they’re excellent cooks so Keelan is eating well. He’s received lots of new and used clothing and shoes, including jackets; he says he doesn’t need any more clothes. The Oxford-Lafayette Red Cross has given him assistance, and he has friends handling contact with other charitable organizations.
Keelan is saddest about the loss of his entire art portfolio—artwork he’s been making since the eighth grade. He also lost all his art supplies, his main method of supporting himself, and he’s had offers for assistance in that area but still needs canvases, quality paint, and many other incidentals to get his art company, Kee Designs, back on track. He is more than willing to do commissioned artwork once he gets back on his feet. He’ll be painting a mural for Kyle McGrevey at Express Computer Service (one of the folks helping him with his singed laptop and hard drives). Call him up and ask about portraits, murals, abstracts, and any other artistic endeavor you’d like him to undertake. He’ll be happy to hear from you, and will be even happier to paint for you.
Once Keelan gets settled into a new place he’ll need a host of other items like appliances and furniture. He says he thinks he’s still in shock because he can’t even think about what else he might need. That’s why the “Keelan, We Love You Fundraiser” was set up for Thursday, December 19 at Old Venice Pizza Company. Couldn’t make it to Old Venice? No problem: Madeline Murphree started a crowd-funding account at http://www.gofundme.com/5qgzcc called “Help Keelan Stokes Relief Fund.” Keelan’s lifelong friend Ronny Cresswell has put up all of the tracks by his band Saw Wheel (at sawwheel.bandcamp.com); the tracks are free to download, but if you make a donation by the New Year, the money will be sent to Keelan. You can also send or drop off donations at 208 Woodlawn Dr. where Keelan is currently staying. He says he doesn’t mind if people contact him directly, so find him on Facebook or call 662.801.7058. If you’d rather your donation be anonymous or find it more convenient to drop off items on the Square, please contact Madeline Murphree (662.816.9383) or Jessica Ham (601.572.5915) – both these ladies have been collecting donations for Keelan since the moment they found out about his misfortune.
Keelan wants everyone to know how grateful he is for every bit of help he has received. He says he knows this will be the best Christmas he’s ever had. His recent Facebook status sums it up:
“As I look back I can’t believe how a few seconds stood between me and death and it makes me ever so grateful for everyone’s love and monumental levels of charity and compassion. I have never in my life ever felt so loved by anyone, not to mention an entire city, and I have no clue how I can ever repay all this kindness to all of you. I have no clue how I am worthy of such amazing friends. Please know I am sending my prayers to each and every one of you, for you have completely saved my life and it will never be taken for granted…thank you all from every beat of my heart. I love you all.”
I’ve known Keelan since 1995. The night I met him, he was role-playing with some mutual friends at Wagner Park in Greenwood, Miss. I’ve seen him grow from a “guy” into a “man,” but he’s still the same GOOD person. He’s always been a talented artist. He’s always laughed all the time. He’s always been there for his friends when he could, without question. He’s always been very modest and unassuming; when this tragedy happened, he didn’t ask for anything. He didn’t expect anything. He says that anything he can’t use he’ll be giving to other individuals in need or to Goodwill. Keelan says, “Pay it forward.”
This article was written by Rebecca Long and was originally published in TLV #194, December 19, 2013