Home News Family shattered after Queens great-grandmother, 96, killed in arson fire

Family shattered after Queens great-grandmother, 96, killed in arson fire

Beloved Queens great-grandmother Marie Helene Michaud lived for nearly a century before an arson fire ripped through her apartment building.

Her death has been deemed a homicide as cops continue to hunt for the firebug. Her family says things will never be the same without her.

“She’d seen wars, civil right movements, many, many interesting presidential elections and the advancement of technology and I know that she enjoyed and loved all of it,” one of her grandchildren told mourners at her funeral.

“She was eager to see all of it.”

The lethal blaze was set in the apartment building at 86th Drive near 209th St. in Queens Village about 3:33 p.m. back on July 11 of last year. Michaud, rushed to Calvary Hospital in critical condition, died five weeks later at age 96 after being transferred to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.

Her death went unreported at the time but this month the NYPD released surveillance footage of the suspected arsonist — and are asking the public’s help identifying him and finally tracking him down. Four other people hurt in the fire have recovered.

Speaking to the Daily News last week at his home in Elmont, LI, Darnell Michaud, another of the victim’s grandsons, said his grandmother was the glue that held the sprawling family together. She had eight children, 19 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren — and plenty of life left to live.

“Her temperament was always trying to keep her mind going. Keep her mind going. She used to read. She used to teach us, help us with our schoolwork and stuff like that. She helped us,” Darnell said. “She wanted us to just live our life to the fullest, all of us.”

The nonagenarian was born and raised in Haiti and widowed decades before her death. She raised some of her grandchildren, including Darnell, in the apartment the fire would later take place in.

“She cooked Haitian food, did Haitian medicine. She’d make rice with black bean sauce. That’s what I grew up with,” said Darnell Michaud. “Even if I try to mimic it, or I ask her for the recipe, I can’t really do it like her. It doesn’t come out like hers.”

“They thought I was gonna take it the hardest because ever since I was a kid it was always my grandmother I used to run to,” he said of her death.

“As a kid, I just loved my grandmother. Just loved her. They used to say like I don’t trust nobody. Even when I was like 3, 3 years old, my mother and my father would come, I would never go run to them. But I would just sit right next to my grandmother. I wouldn’t care about them for nothing.”

Marie Helene Michaud in an undated photo.
Marie Helene Michaud in an undated photo.

Khorran Simmons, 22, who also lives in the building, said he alerted neighbors when he saw the smoke.

“Smoke was coming out the door and I go to see what’s causing the fire and I see it’s a mattress. I tried to turn water on but (that tenant’s) faucet doesn’t have a knob so that’s why I ran upstairs,” he said.

“I ran upstairs and tried to grab a bucket of water but the bucket was a little heavy and it took time to fill up in the bathtub so I just ran upstairs, knocked on everybody’s door, ‘Fire! fire!” People came out.”

Simmons saw Marie Helene Michaud on a stretcher the day of the fire, unconscious but breathing. He thought she would survive.

“All my life, I knew her family lived up there my whole life,” he said.

Darnell Michaud credits Simmons with saving the lives of his aunt and others in the building.

“They said smoke filled up the whole room,” Darnell said. “I think my aunt even passed out too. They said if it wasn’t for the (firefighters) and knocking and getting people out they didn’t think they was gonna wake up or make it.”

Marie Helene Michaud was unconscious for a week after the blaze and despite the efforts of medical staff the smoke inhalation eventually proved too much for her.

“They said that she had smoke in her lungs. And she kept asking them to take the (breathing) tube out,” her grandson said. “It was bothering her but that’s what’s keeping her breathing.”

“She had a respirator first then she had a trach,” he added. “And you know she had a heart problem too.”

She died on August 18.

Michaud’s funeral was held a week after her death, on August 25 at Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church in Queens Village.

At the service, Michaud was eulogized by a grandson in a tribute sprinkled with French phrases.

“My grandmother lived a phenomenal life,” the grandson said. “To put into context how phenomenal, the first electronic television broadcast was demonstrated on September 7, 1927. Grandma was born almost a year prior, on November 27, 1926.”

“She was curious. She was nosy. She loved to laugh and she always had to have it her way,” he added.

Darnell Michaud reflected last week on life without his grandmother.

“I’d go see her every day,” he said. “When I moved (to Long Island) I started pulling away a little bit. But, you know, that’s my grandma so I go there every Thanksgiving … I’m gonna be with my grandma. My grandma, she’s gonna be waiting for us. She kept it together. Now that she’s not here I don’t think people are going to reach out as much.”

“I would say we all probably just branched off,” he said of his family now. “We don’t keep in touch as much anymore.”

“I really, really feel like something’s missing,” he added.

Anyone with information on the suspected arsonist is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential.


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