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Manatee High School students help one of their own

MANATEE — Some good came out of a tragedy Friday when the Manatee High School Student Council donated $500 to help a fellow student who lost everything in a fire.

“We felt like we connected with her,” said Sean Fahy, president of the student body. “We thought about what it would be like if our house burned down, and we would want someone to help us get back on our feet.”

The student, a senior at Manatee High, was in the house in the 600 block of 36th Street West, with her father, Thomas Dykstra, and his girlfriend, Virginia Butera, when a fire destroyed the wood frame home early Thursday morning.

The body of the 54-year-old Butera was found in the charred ruins of the house.

Dykstra, 53, was taken to Manatee Memorial Hospital for treatment of burns and smoke inhalation, and hospital spokesman Vernon DeSear said he remained in fair condition.

Dykstra’s daughter told firefighters she escaped the fire by kicking out her bedroom window. She was unhurt.

When word of the teen’s plight reached the school Thursday morning, the student council was already meeting.

Vice Principal Gary Theiler told social studies teacher and council sponsor Ray Briggs, who brought it to the council.

“We had a five-minute discussion and decided on $500,” Sean said. “We thought it would be a good amount to help her.”

The money, which comes from fundraisers, was to be used for the state convention for student councils and next year’s homecoming.

“An integral part of the student council is to give back to our students,” Sean said.

He said none of the other student council members knew the teen personally, and that this was the first time they have done something like this.

“This is a true testament to our young people,” Theiler said. “Especially those in a leadership role.”

He said the students made a quick decision to help one of their own.

The student came into the school Friday to talk to Theiler about her situation and to get a new identification card, which also was lost in the fire.

“That’s how conscientious the young lady is,” the vice principal said.

“She also was very grateful when I told her about the gift from the student body.”

The emergency call for the fire came in at 12:23 a.m. Thursday, and firefighters quickly responded to find the home engulfed in flames.

By the time the firefighters extinguished the fire at 1:16 a.m. Thursday, only the chimney of the house and two charred walls remained. The rest of the home was a pile of blackened rubble and ash.

Preliminary results of an investigation show that one of two electrical space heaters caused the fire. 

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