Group seeks help rebuilding home of victim of violence

Woman, 72, has nowhere to live after home destroyed by fire

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Justice Coalition is asking for help for a woman who was brutally assaulted and robbed back in April. Days later, 72-year-old Marti Williams' home was set on fire.

She lost practically everything she owned in only three days. Fire destroyed her garage, and smoke damaged the rest of the home.

To top it all off, Williams' identity was stolen. Her lawn man, Mitchel Rivera, is now facing charges for the crimes. Williams' friends said he saw her as an easy target. 

"After Mrs. Williams was robbed, beaten and choked, the criminal came back and set her house on fire," said Ann Dugger with the Justice Coalition.

Williams (pictured), who is currently staying in a convalescent home, said she's not sure she'll ever feel safe anymore. She said she hasn't been through the entire house since the fire, but neighbors have told her the home is a total loss.

"There's almost nothing that I'm not going to need," Williams said.

Including a new home. That's why the coalition is stepping in.

Dugger is asking the public to step in and help Williams, by donating time and resources to rebuild her Arlington home.

Tillman Building Services, Waste Pro, All-American Electrical and Builders Care have already committed, but Williams still needs more assistance.

"I shudder to think I would ever be in that situation, older, and losing everything," said Gary Hopkins of American Electrical Contractors, which is also lending aid. "She needs help."

Williams said she's touched by everyone who has come forward to help her.

"I give thanks every night. I look up at the ceiling, and I think, 'I have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in and food,'" Williams said. "And I just say, 'Thank you, God,' and thank this facility for not kicking me out in the street, and me living in the park somewhere, because that's exactly what the situation would be."

Williams said she had a friend in Orange Park who had offered her a place to stay, but that woman, who's 82, had a severe asthma attack and will be in the hospital for some time.

Williams may be released from the convalescent home sometime next week, which is why builders are rushing to donate their time and resources to help. A spokesperson for the Justice Coalition said the group needs the help of builders and carpenters the most.

For Larry Ward, Williams' story is one he's all too familiar with. His elderly mother-in-law was also beaten and left for dead, but she survived.

"There is an element in our community that targets them," Ward said. "Elderly women should know sometimes you're not even safe in your home. My mother-in-law was in her home. Marti was in her home."

Williams said the increasing level of crime in Jacksonville makes her feel like it's not safe to go out at night.

"I felt like the old saying of having the rug pulled out from under me, literally. Empty and lost and hopeless," Williams said. "I did a lot of crying. … Even still at this facility, I wake up at night, and I say, 'I'm homeless.' I wonder if this is how people out on the streets feel? It's like being deserted in the middle of a desert somewhere, without even a drop of water. Because I am by myself, and I'm the only one responsible for me."

If you can assist in any way to help return Williams' life back to normal, you're asked to contact the Justice Coalition or Larry Ward at 904-703-3688.

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