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Firefighters to burn down house where Somer Thompson was killed

House of convicted killer to be fuse for firefighter training

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ORANGE PARK, Fla. – The Orange Park home where Somer Thompson was killed 5 years ago, will be burned to the ground Thursday.

It will be part of a training exercise by firefighters with the Orange Park Fire Department and Clay County Fire Rescue.

The 7 year old disappeared in 2009, while walking home from school. She was kidnapped, raped and suffocated before her body was found in a Georgia landfill days later.

Somer's mother suggested something useful the community could do with the house where her daughter was killed in 2009: Burn it down.

Ownership of the home where 29-year-old Jarred Harrell killed Somer on Oct. 19, 2009, was transferred from the bank to The Somer Thompson Foundation by way of a quit claim deed last year.

Diena Thompson, Somer's mother, then contacted the Orange Park Fire Department to suggest that the property could be used as a training site -- and that the house could be destroyed in the process. That training began Monday evening and will conclude Thursday with the burning down of the vacant, foreclosed-upon home at 1152 Gano Avenue in Orange Park.

Thompson said she wanted something good to come from the tragedy and allowing first responders to train on the site is one way to achieve that goal.

"The monster took my daughter away over five years ago here at this place, and now finally what should have been done five years ago is being done," said Thompson.

OPFD Fire Chief Ty Silcox and his staff researched the requirements for this type of training and determined the location met the criteria. A certified "live fire trainer" will be on scene, as required, and no evacuation of residents is planned or deemed necessary. All residents have received advanced notification.

Extra crews from OPFD and Clay County Fire Rescue will be on scene to provide fire suppression and control when/where needed and to participate in the training in phases.

Some specialized training regarding search and rescue techniques began on the property Monday evening and is planned again Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. That training involves searching in low-light conditions using thermal imaging cameras and will be conducted by the OPFD along with personnel from NAS Jacksonville in accordance with their mutual aide agreement.

OPFD said residents or motorists in the area should not be alarmed by the activity; it is part of the training exercise in general.

On Thursday, the entire home will most likely be burned between 1-1:30 p.m. before school gets out. Smaller training fires will be lit and extinguished by participants throughout the morning. There will be road closures involved and extra law enforcement presence in the area.

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Thompson said that first responders were there for her family at the time of her daughter's disappearance and said if this training in some way can help them save just one life, that will serve as a benefit for this community.

"She was literally just walking home one day and stopped right here and put her face up to the fence and talk to a little doggie, and then an even-meaner dog came out and took her," she said.

Thompson is donating the home to Fire Station 19 for training and the number 19 is close to her heart.

"She went missing on the 19th, so for me that's hugely significant," said Thompson. "Second, first responders, they are the people who came out in droves to be there for me and my family and did things they didn't have to do, and if I let them train in this house and destroy something that is so hurtful and ugly to me and they might be able to save a life."

Thompson also used this time to take back her strength, releasing her anger out on the house with an ax.

"It made me feel weak, but it also took some of the pain. It could never take it all away," she said.

Thompson said thanks to the community, the memory of Somer will always live on.

"You can get through this by yourself and I said from the beginning it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to help a mother who lost a child," said Thompson.

Many neighbors honked in support when they saw firefighters outside on Tuesday.

Rosemarie Heine has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years. She remembers the tragic day when Somer Thompson disappeared.

"We started handing out flyers at the mall and trying to get people involved and look for this little girl," said Heine.

Neighbors soon learned the little girl had been lured behind these walls, sexually assaulted and then killed. The home has since sat vacant -- experiencing vandalism and burglaries and even hindering the sale of surrounding homes.

"I have been driving by here for years since this happened and this house of course is a huge eyesore and every time you drive by it just brings back those memories," said Heine.

But Heine said she's pleased to know Somer's mother donated the home to the Orange Park Fire Department -- in hopes of benefiting others.

"It's got to be hard to live next to it, it's hard to drive by it every day. They're using the house for good purposes, for practices and it's going to be destroyed and the bad memory will hopefully be the dust of dust," Heine said.