Brimmer's Mojica recovering from tragedy at home

CHELSEA, Mass. -- It was the most vulnerable moment of Sammy Mojica's life.

A day after a fire destroyed his family's apartment in Chelsea, Brimmer and May's star guard walked through the tattered remains of his home. In what seemed like an instant, everything that Mojica and his family owned was destroyed, leaving them without any of the belongings or a place they can call home.

Last Wednesday was a normal day for Sammy, making the drive to Chestnut Hill's Brimmer & May School from Chelsea and attending his first few classes before sitting down with some of his teammates for lunch.

That was when he got a call from his older sister, who lives in New York City.

"She called when I was at lunch and asked 'Have you talked to mom? The house is on fire and she's still in there'."

In a moment of disbelief, he walked outside the loud lunchroom to better hear his sister. She repeated her question, and to Sammy's dismay, he had heard her correctly the first time. After he hung up the phone and attempted to grasp his composure in the hallway, he went to the classroom of Jill Iuliano.

Iuliano, Sammy's math teacher whom he felt he could trust and confide in, talked to Sammy and immediately made moves to help him get home to his mother.

"She's one of my favorite teachers," he said. "She asked me what's wrong, and I told her my mom is still in the house. I started breaking down and crying."

Her husband Joseph, the headmaster of Brimmer & May's Upper School, quickly saw to it that Sammy had a ride to Haymarket Square, where he and his younger sister Kiara met their father, Sammy Mojica, Sr., a Chelsea policeman.

Their father reminded Sammy and Kiara several times in the car that their mother was OK. Sammy also talked to his mother briefly on the phone, but nothing was quite like seeing her in person and embracing her for the first time since he had left for school that morning.

"[Seeing her] was the best thing ever. It was like 'OK, that's just a big chunk off my shoulders'," he said. "She was not burned or hurt. It was such a relief."

Sammy, Kiara, and their mother, Awilda Morales, lived on the third floor of their Congress Ave. apartment building. It was determined that the cause of the fire came from a neighbor directly below. The neighbor had a bucket on his porch where he threw used cigarette butts, and after throwing a lit cigarette into the bucket, a fire ignited that quickly burned through the second story ceiling. The man disappeared after the fire and hasn't been seen since.

Morales, after banging on her neighbors' doors to tell them that she was calling the fire department, ran back to the apartment to get the family's dog, and quickly exited the building.

Following Morales' exit, the fire destroyed the ceiling on the second floor, causing their third floor apartment to cave in and go up in flames. Shortly after, Sammy and Kiara arrived to the scene with their father.

That night, Sammy and Kiara stayed with their father, who lives in Peabody, while their mother went to stay with their grandmother, who resides in Chelsea. Because both children had no clothes, they were unable to go to school on Thursday, so Sammy went with his father to buy clothes and necessities, while his sister went with their father's wife.

On Thursday afternoon, Sammy and his family went to visually take in the damage that had been done to their home. His father led the family into the apartment, and it was the first time Sammy had stepped inside his home since leaving for school on Wednesday morning.

Everything Sammy and Kiara owned was gone. He had nearly $700 saved in his dresser to buy himself a car, and he also lost his Xbox, laptop, and all of his clothes. That devastated him, but losing the things that didn't have a set monetary value -- his basketball trophies -- was what hurt him the most. Peering down at a pile of rubble that once contained dozens of shiny trophies, he couldn't hold back tears.

Sammy has come onto the radar of several local Division 1 school since he left Chelsea High School and transferred to Brimmer and May this past fall. Northeastern, Holy Cross, Boston University, Robert Morris, Quinnipiac, and several others, are all vying for Sammy, who boasts a 3.3 GPA. Needless to say, his trophy case was full.

"I had a big trophy case of all my trophies and awards, and all of them had been ruined," he said. "That hurt me, and my dad was destroyed by that. He and I were both really emotional when we saw it. Honestly, it sucked."

Sammy went home to Peabody that night with his dad, and was surprised with a visit from all of his teammates, who came up to visit Sammy with Brimmer head coach Tom Nelson.

"We just hung out a little bit, had a good time," Mojica said. "It made me happy, it was the only time I smiled that day. I felt like I hadn't laughed in forever."

Brimmer's tightly-knit hoops squad made sure that Sammy felt right back at home when he arrived at school the next day. The school allowed Sammy and his two best friends, teammates John Powell and K.J. Baptiste, to go off-campus during the lunch hour to get food.

"My teammates were really good to me," he said. "They took me to go eat out at lunchtime. John and K.J. got me some stuff at Star Market. They kept saying 'We're going to take care of you, no worries'."

That afternoon, Brimmer took on NEPSAC Class AA rival Wilbraham & Monson Academy. WMA, boasting a stacked frontline led by shot-blocker Goodluck Okonoboh and blossoming young guards Mustapha Heron and Luis Montero, needed the win in order to avoid dropping a couple of spots in the Class AA standings.

Sammy was nervous going into the game. He hadn't picked up a ball in a couple days. He tried to make time to go to Chelsea High School on Thursday night with his dad, but between visiting his old home and making the drive back to Peabody, he was unable to find time to get some shots up.

However, the junior guard didn't miss a beat. He led the Gators to a 67-63 overtime victory in what was one of his best games of the year: 17 points, seven assists, and five rebounds. Basketball was exactly what he needed to help him get his mind off of what had been a very traumatic couple of days.

"During the game, it focused my mind off everything else but basketball," Mojica said. "My mom and little sister were there, it was so good to get a win like that. It was a big win that we needed."

"Sammy loves his mother a lot, it was hard for him to see his mother like that," Nelson said. "When we played on Friday the team was really just trying to win for him and his mom, who was there. They both were very emotional [after the game]."

As the final buzzer sounded, Sammy's teammates jumped up and down around him, hugging him and reminding him that he was their motivation.

"John Powell went up to Sammy and said, 'We did this for you'," Nelson said. "It helped Sammy take his mind off the situation for a little while. That was my best win ever as a high school coach, and it was my proudest moment. I was so proud of how hard those guys played.

"You could see all of it come out of him the end, the emotions, it was all about togetherness. It made him and us feel like we can overcome anything. Bad things happen, but you can overcome them no matter what."

That night, Nelson and his good friend Sherwyn Cooper, a family friend to Sammy and his mother, started an online donation page on GoFundMe.com, to raise money to help Sammy and his family get back on their feet. With a goal of $10,000, the page has already brought in almost $3,000 of donations in the last two days.

"The support from people means so much, it would help a lot," Mojica said.

"We still don't have a place to stay, we really need it. My mom loves our grandmother, but my mom is independent and doesn't like depending on anybody else. She's proud. I appreciate the help so much."

For the foreseeable future until Sammy, Kiara, and their mother are able to find a home, Sammy will spend nights staying with his father and his teammates. Jake Fay, a senior from Lynn who will play college basketball at Fordham next year, is one of several members of the team who have offered Sammy a place to stay.

Donations can be made at: http://www.gofundme.com/1x62hk. All collected proceeds will go to Awilda Morales, and her children, Sammy and Kiara.