The 11-year-old Salisbury hero who saved his 2-year-old sister when their apartment caught fire just before Thanksgiving was honored by Mayor Jake Day, the fire department and governor’s office last week at a city event his mother called “beautiful and heartfelt.”
Mayor Jake Day presented 6th-grader La’Prentis Doughty with the Mayor’s Award for Citizen Service when the boy joined his mother, Keishauna Banks, and 14 more family members at the City of Salisbury's annual Holiday Party and Awards Banquet at the Wicomico Civic Center.
“It’s great that we can celebrate with them,” Day said before the Dec. 2 event.
“I plan to ask him to stand up there with me in a room where we’ve got heroes – firefighters, police officers -- and they are going to be looking up to him. I think that the police officers and firefighters will recognize this young man as something special, that he is equally committed, like they are, to the preservation of life. I’ll be lucky if a person with that kind of character comes to work with us someday,” Day said.
Banks said Monday that the mayor told La’Prentis what he did was “a brave, courageous thing.”
“He gave him a mayor’s award. The fire department gave him an award. He got an award from Gov. Larry Hogan’s office. He came home with four certificates and two coins. He said he was rich because he got two medals,” his mother said, adding the two are close and her son is a caring young man.
“The other day after school I stopped at McDonald’s and I said, ‘I forgot my money.’ He said, ‘Mom, you can take my gift card.’ I said, ‘No. That’s yours. When Christmas comes, how are you going to pay for your game?’ but he said ‘But Mom, you’re hungry,’” she said.
La’Prentis had a speech planned after receiving his awards. At the last minute, he decided not to speak, but told his mother the experience humbled him, and later told the Salisbury Independent when the fire started he was frightened “but I didn’t hesitate.”
“I went back inside to get my sister. I couldn’t see and there was so much smoke I couldn’t breathe. I felt around for her. She was walking and I reached around for her. My mom’s room, it was so bright from the flames,” he said.
At school, teachers and classmates congratulated him.
“The kids are saying, ‘Good job, good job,” La’Prentis said. The story has made local and national print and broadcast news, even being published in the New York Post and Atlanta Black Star newspapers.
When Loyalty was born, La’Prentis was 10 and excited to have a sibling.
“He could not wait until she got here. I didn’t think I could get pregnant again. I was 24 or 25 when I had him, so I thought he was my little blessing, my only child. Then Loyalty came along,” said Banks, who runs a cleaning business.
On Nov. 22, the day of the fire – an electrical blaze that started in an outlet -- Banks was out shopping for Thanksgiving dinner when her best friend, who was staying with her, called screaming and telling Banks to rush home.
“Her two children were downstairs. They are 16 and 17. My children were upstairs. When I left they were asleep. I was on my way back from Walmart grabbing Thanksgiving dinner. My best friend called me frantically screaming my upstairs was on fire. The first thing I thought about was my kids. The second thing I thought about was my important things. I started praying and I heard her screaming, ‘Get out! Everybody get out!’ When she called me I was on Isabella Street at the light. I’m driving on the wrong side of the road. I was flying on the road, trying to pass people from each and every direction. They were looking at me, blowing at me. I was, ‘Please, please, please.’ I was trying to keep prayers going in my head.
“After I passed the light, I hear the firetrucks but I didn’t see them. I was like, ‘Hurry up, hurry up.’ I pull into my complex and a whole bunch of people are standing outside. I don’t see my best friend, her kids or my kids. Her screaming has me thinking they are still in the house. The door was open and there was all this black smoke coming out of the door.
“My best friend is screaming, ‘Don’t go in there. Don’t open that door’ but I ran in there and it’s smoky downstairs. It was just super black downstairs. The first bedroom, my bedroom, is on fire but the door was cracked. My best friend shut the door and she was screaming not to open that door but in my head my kids are behind that door and she is still outside screaming. I wanted to pluck her in the head,” Banks said with a smile.
“The sun is literally made of fire and when I cracked that door that’s what it was -- so bright it blinded me. The smoke instantly cut off my breathing. In my head, my kids couldn’t possibly have made it past that smoke. I was like, ‘La’Prentis, Loyalty. Oh my God, no.’ I just wanted to just sit on my bedroom floor and give up and not make it but my best friend said “What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Where are my kids?’ and she said, ‘Right here.’
“I was like ‘Why didn’t you say that?’ I was so grateful. They had practically nothing on. Loyalty had a pajama shirt on and Pull-Ups and La’Prentis had on shorts and slippers,” she said.
La’Prentis was crying and told his mother, “She might not have made it.” Comforting him, his mother said, ‘But she did make it. She’s OK.”
The fire rendered the apartment uninhabitable so Banks and her children are staying in a two-bedroom apartment provided free of charge through the end of the year by Blair Carey of Salisbury. That Furniture Store gave them beds, headboards and a kitchen table, also without charge.
There is a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $25,000. By early this week, there were 309 donors and $14,475 raised.
“This experience, this testimony God placed upon my life, it has opened me up more to people,” Banks said.
“I was secluded. I stayed to myself because of a lot of drama. I’m trying to break generational curses. The world wasn’t getting any better. The only thing I could do was protect my babies. This opened my eyes and restored my faith in humanity. I told God, ‘This chapter of my life is called Humble.’ It made my son humble, too. He wants to be a lawyer. I don’t want him to be a statistic. I talked to him. I thought about taking a game from him, taking his cell phone, no TV to keep him on the right path, I thought I wouldn’t get to him, that he would just hate me. But I’m so thankful. It got the message across.”