When Andre Sanders was considering moving out of his home on Yankee Road — where his wife and mother of nine children overdosed on Dec. 13, 2017 — his mom urged him to relocate closer to her in Cincinnati.
That made sense until Sanders remembered the way the Middletown community turned his family’s tragedy into triumph.
There was no reason to leave his adopted hometown.
“This has shown me what it means to be human,” Sanders said while sitting outside his home. “You have people you don’t even know reach out and care about you. The love and support from the community has been great and it continues to be great. To have somebody pick you up at your worst time and help set you back on the correct path.”
One year ago this week, Sanders’ world took a detour. His wife, Jimeta Sanders, 31, who was battling drug addiction and had recently been in treatment, was found dead in the family’s kitchen of a drug overdose.
In January, a father and son charged in connection with Sanders’ death pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges. Jim Boyer, 63, and his son, Keith Boyer, 32, were charged with abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence, theft and nine counts of child endangering.
They allegedly were in Sanders’ house when she died, Middletown police said.
Both men pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, petty theft and two counts of endangering children, all misdemeanors.
Her death left Sanders to care for their nine children, five boys and four girls between the ages of 1 and 14. The burden was almost too much for him to bear. Especially since his wife died two weeks before Christmas.
“I felt like I was at the end of things, too,” he said. “I was very afraid. I put on a big front at the time to stay strong for my kids. But I was really uncertain.”
Then something magical happened: A Middletown Miracle.
After the Middletown Division of Police posted last year on its Facebook page it was collecting Christmas items for the family, the department was “overwhelmed” by the response, said police Chief Rodney Muterspaw. Within a few hours, residents started dropping off items — gifts, groceries and cash — at the police department.
Soon, the training room in the lower level of the Middletown City Building wasn’t large enough to hold the generosity. Muterspaw said the department received calls from as far away as California.
Days before Christmas, Middletown detectives and police officers unloaded a U-Haul truck full of presents, groceries and appliances at the family’s home. Muterspaw said one donor gave $9,000 — $1,000 for each child.
“The response was something we didn’t expect, anybody could have expected,” Muterspaw said this week. “It was just a blessing. It shows you how much Middletown cares and how much soul Middletown has. For the bad rap it gets sometimes, I don’t know how many cities that could have come forward like this one did.”
In fact, Muterspaw said, there were too many gifts and groceries for one family. He said the overflow was delivered to eight needy families in the city.
The Middletown community continues to give to the Sanders family. The family received financial support from the Fraternal Order of Police and the family was adopted by AK Steel employees this Christmas, Sanders said. AK Steel employees donate gifts for dozens of local families in need in during the holiday season, officials said.
Since last year, the family seems to be adjusting, Sanders said. He’s caring for the nine children, and after seeing the financial strain caused by death, he’s working toward becoming a life insurance salesman. He thinks his story can sell some policies.
Besides moving across town and changing careers, Sanders is a different man today. Losing a wife and being embraced by a community have shifted the way he views the world.
“Honestly, it has changed my life,” he said. “Changed how I see things. From that happening, that experience, and how the community pulled together, and really was there for us, it was amazing, it was overwhelming. It’s a life-changing feeling. To me, I know the value of the human spirit.”
Then, as he pulled his coat close to block the winter wind, he remembered Dec. 13, 2017, the he was called at work and told his wife had overdosed.
“I was at a different place at that point,” he said softly. “I was at my lowest point with everything. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was in my depths. I was close to death in a way.”
Then, he said: “That outpouring the community gave me showed there is a another way to live and I have changed my life.”