• Family accepting donations, fund at Wells Fargo
A recent Clinton High School graduate died Friday at the Augusta Burn Center, three days after he ran into a burning house to save his grandparents from a fire that engulfed their West Pitts Street home in Clinton.
Willie “A.J.” Gary, 20, rushed into the two-story home Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 19) and rescued his grandparents, who were asleep when the fire broke out. After helping them to safety, Gary reportedly went back into the home but became trapped as the structure became fully engulfed in fire.
He died of smoke inhalation, said Laurens County Chief Deputy Coroner Patti Canupp.
Gary, a former Clinton High football player, is lauded as a hero by his friends and family, who said he did not hesitate to rush into his grandparents’ home to save their lives.
He is also remembered by those friends and family as a young man with a quick smile and laugh who was inherently kind.
“He was an amazing kid that loved everyone,” said first cousin Albert Williams. “He definitely represented God’s love – a selfless colorblind type of love.”
The family held a candlelight vigil at the remains of the West Pitts Street home Sunday evening to remember Gary.
“The death of a young person always takes my breath away; there is nothing more unnatural than a child or teen losing his or her life, especially if it’s unexpected and more so when it’s one of your own,” Rhonda Gary, A.J.’s aunt, wrote on Facebook.
A.J. Gary played his final year of football for Clinton High under current head coach Corey Fountain, who remembered his former player fondly.
“He always had a smile on his face,” Fountain said. “When it came to football, he always came to work and was ready to play. He was just a good kid.”
Funeral arrangements for Gary have not been announced.
A fund to help with funeral expenses has been set up at Wells Fargo in Clinton under the Gary Family.
Money, clothing and other necessities for the family, who lost all their belongings in the fire, are being collected.
The family is at 120 Gray Barn Road in Laurens, and donations can be sent there. Monetary donations can also be made by Cashapp at $bluelove71.
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