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Home lost to arson, Chickamaw Beach family rebuilds; thankful this Thanksgiving Day

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CHICKAMAW BEACH — Even after Timothy and Carla Volcke’s dream home in the city of Chickamaw Beach was burned to the ground in January by a man who intentionally set fire to it, the couple still have plenty to be grateful for this Thanksgiving Day—family.

The Volckes home was destroyed Jan. 8 when their daughter Whitney’s ex-boyfriend Brandon Todd Sannan, 23, Akeley, set fire to the home, while the Volckes were inside, along with six of their grandchildren and a niece. Sannan was sentenced June 25 to serve six years in prison for the third-degree attempted murder charge and an additional four years on first-degree arson charge in Cass County District Court.

Luckily, everyone, including the family’s dog Fletcher and Whitney’s dog and cat were able to escape safely. The family lost everything; however, they’re grateful they survived and that they have each other. And three months ago, they moved into their new home which was built right on top of the existing foundation.

“It’s starting to feel like home,” Carla Volcke said as she sat in her new dining room Tuesday, while two of her grandchildren, Raenah, 5, and Emmy, 3, played. “It was very emotional (when the fire happened) ... We were blessed when our 11th grandchild, Lila, was born 10 days after the fire.”

Volcke said her husband and three younger children were sleeping, while she and the four older children were up when the fire was set just after midnight. Volcke said the TV downstairs had no signal and they thought it was weird. She said the children smelled gas, so she unplugged it and they went upstairs to watch TV, but that TV wasn’t working either.

“Then one of the kids said, ‘Nana, we hear crackling noises,’” said Volcke, so she opened the door to her bedroom, where Timothy was sleeping and saw flames outside through the window. “I yelled at my husband three times before he got up and I pointed to the flames and he got up and said, ‘Oh my God.’”

The Volckes gathered all the children and took them outside to a safe spot. Timothy Volcke had to find his cellphone so he could call 911 and he grabbed the keys to move one of the vehicles.

“All that they (children) had on were their PJs and socks,” said Carla Volcke. “We didn’t have time to grab anything. We ran the kids over to my brother-in-law’s and his girlfriend to stay and we went back to watch the fire. No one was hurt, but we lost everything and the grandchildren had all their stuff packed for an overnight and that also was gone.

“We just built that house six years ago and it was my dream house.”

Volcke said it was hard seeing her home destroyed as her home was the primary site of all family gatherings, including birthdays and holidays. Her four daughters and 11 grandchildren and families would visit weekly. Volcke said she has so many memories of the grandchildren at her home, such as the grandchildren flying kites in the field or “having fun at Grandma and Grandpa’s house,” and that makes her sad now that the old house is gone. However, she said, they will make new memories at the new house.

Volcke’s daughter Sheree McCoy said the children have had nightmares from the fire, since it was pretty traumatic for them. Volcke said her oldest grandson one time was in the upper bunk bed and she asked him what he was doing. He said that he was reading the Bible and she told him, “That’s good,” and he said, “I’m waiting for someone to break in.”

“We’re all doing better,” said Volcke. “We’re here for each other. We do more hugs and kisses and pray a lot more.

“I believed in God before, but now I am more of a believer. I’m also very thankful to my neighbor, Kari Shipp. We couldn’t have done any of this without them. We’ve cried a lot together and laughed too.”

The Volckes and their children and grandchildren will spend Thanksgiving Day at Timothy’s parents’ home and they feel blessed. They plan to spend Christmas in the new house.

Whitney didn’t want to talk about her relationship with Sannan, other than saying he was controlling, aggressive and they had “nothing but problems.”

According to the criminal complaint filed against Sannan, Whitney had recently terminated a relationship with him and that he had become increasingly possessive of Whitney and would send up to 100 text messages per day to her. Sannan repeatedly texted her pleading for her to continue in a relationship and some of the texts eventually included threats to have Whitney assaulted. Sannan sent a text apologizing for what he had done the morning of Jan. 8.

According to the complaint, Sannan initially poured gas on the corner of the house and lit it on fire and walked away. As he was walking away, he observed that the fire had gone out so he returned and used the lighter to ignite a wicker chair that was located on the deck. He then left and snuck back into the house where he was staying.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851. Follow me on Twitter at