Mountain Heritage students reach out to teen whose home was gutted by fire

Brandon Riddle found out who his friends are, including members of the Future Farmers of America chapter he's part of. (Photo credit: John Le, WLOS)

Students at Mountain Heritage High showed a freshman how much compassion the Cougars' really have. They surprised him with a TV and computer tablet which he lost in a recent house fire.

When you hear the voice of loss, it takes heart to do more than just listen.

"Everything, the kitchen was gone," Jason Riddle of Burnsville said.

Earlier this month, a propane heater leaked at his home on Stream Road.

"I heard an explosion. I didn't know what it was," he said, still traumatized. "It was on fire, so we went outside."

No one was hurt, but the fire gutted the house and was devastating to Jason and his family. His Christmas presents were reduced to rubble, and his Aunt Catlin said that was hard on him.

"You can tell it's put an impact on him as much as anyone else," she said.

Jason's well-liked at Mountain Heritage, but he never fully knew how much he was loved.

"Everybody greets him when he comes," said Isaac Benfield, who's president of the school's Future Farmers of America chapter, which Jason's part of. "Don't even go for the handshake, just give him a hug."

Benfield said Jason needs to be embraced more than ever. They gathered to cultivate compassion in a special way.

"Since this happened, I've really seen a change in him, and I hope that this will really bring him back. Really show him that we're here for him and will help him going forward," he said of Jason.

After lunch, the principal directed the freshman down the hallway.

"Oh scrap!" Jason exclaimed, seeing about a dozen people gathered. "I didn't know my aunt was here!"

He once feared what he lost could never be replaced.

"You've been down and out in class," student Alex Allman said. "And just haven't been yourself."

"So, we all kind of pitched in together," she explained with other FFA members watching. "And to replace your Christmas gifts, we got you the TV and your tablet back."

Since the fire, they'd already given Jason clothes and even an air mattress. Now, it's like Christmas in March.

"It works!" he said, turning on his new tablet.

"Thank you for giving me all my stuff back," he said. "That's all I like."

"One thing we always tell people is we're a family, we really are," Benfield said.

Aunt Catlin's was overcome with emotion.

"I really didn't know that people would do this," she said. "You don't think something like this will happen to you until it really does. And that's -- wow, ha."

"Try and keep your gas heaters off at all times, because that's what happened at my house," Jason told the crowd. "So, use electrical heaters. Don't use the gas."

After all that's happened to his material things, Jason's next step was only natural. He hugged his grandma for nine seconds. That was the tender moment that lingered.

"I didn't know y'uns was gonna be here," Jason marveled.

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