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Graduate's family stays focused on gratitude

The Hunter family lost everything except each other in a Matthews house fire in August 2005.

In January 2007, a relative was killed during an attempted robbery.

They've suffered job loss. And in May, another house fire displaced the family again.

Now the Hunters – father Tony, mother Sharon and daughters Brandi, 13, and Brittani, 18 – are finally out of a Ballantyne hotel and back into the Indian Trail house they rent.

And they're thankful.

“I finally feel the light at the end of this tunnel,” Brittani said.

The events of the past few years have tested the family's nerves and their faith. They have also brought the family closer.

And through it all, the teens have stayed focused in school. Brittani graduated from Butler High School this year with a 4.06 GPA and plans to attend Saint Mary's College in Indiana. Brandi will be a freshman at Porter Ridge High School in the fall.

Brittani, who plans to become a journalist, said she's thankful for the lessons she has learned this early in life.

The biggest one?

“Material things don't matter anything to me,” she said.

Brittani said it has been a hard lesson to learn.

The family's first fire – started by an overheated lamp – destroyed all their clothes, furniture, pictures and home videos. Their hermit crab, Mo Mo, survived.

It was the first time Brittani had seen her dad cry, she said.

The fire happened the day before cheerleading tryouts at Butler. Brittani went anyway and made the squad.

The second fire, caused by burning incense that fell into a bathroom trash can, wrecked the family's emotions more than their belongings. The fire was contained to the bathroom and an adjoining bedroom; they had to move out while workers made repairs.

Brittani, who had been at Butler's prom the night before, awoke to a funny smell and a sizzling sound. She tried to fall back asleep, but couldn't. Then Brandi came into her room, as black smoke poured through the vents, screaming there was a fire.

“It was just like having to relive the memories,” Brittani said. “I was out in the street saying ‘Why does this have to happen?'”

As a memento, she's keeping a shower curtain ring melted by the fire.

Tony closed his commercial cleaning business about two years ago – he couldn't compete with the lower rates of larger companies, he said – and has been out of steady work since.

His wife, Sharon, works as a resident counselor at Elon Homes for Children.

In January 2007 the Hunters met 20-year-old DonteAntonio McFadden, the son Tony Hunter didn't know he had from a previous relationship.

About two weeks later, McFadden was shot and killed in a west Charlotte robbery attempt.

McFadden died in a gun battle with a McDonald's employee when McFadden tried to rob the store, police said. He had abused drugs and told Brittani he was in a gang, but didn't want his father to know.

The death of her brother inspired Brittani to apply to Butler's Daring to Role-model Excellence as Athletic Mentors, known as the DREAM Team, a program where participants advocate for being drug and alcohol free.

“He made an impression on my life, whether he knew it or not,” Brittani said.

The strength that has kept the Hunter family together lies in their faith, Tony Hunter said.

“Being a family of faith, that's our foundation,” he said. “It's the attitude while you're going through it. You can have all the money in the world and the family's not close.

“I'd rather have the family versus the money.”

Tony Hunter said he has tried to stay strong for his family, so his daughters will have a positive role model. But sometimes it has been his daughters who have kept their parents going.

“Dad gets weak, too,” he said.

All the Hunters have to do now is move back home.

On a recent afternoon, Brandi looked at the boxes sitting in the garage waiting to be unpacked – then turned quickly away. “Oh, my gosh,” she said. “I don't even want to look at that stuff.”

The Hunter family lost everything except each other in a Matthews house fire in August 2005.

In January 2007, a relative was killed during an attempted robbery.

They've suffered job loss. And in May, another house fire displaced the family again.

Now the Hunters – father Tony, mother Sharon and daughters Brandi, 13, and Brittani, 18 – are finally out of a Ballantyne hotel and back into the Indian Trail house they rent.

And they're thankful.

“I finally feel the light at the end of this tunnel,” Brittani said.

The events of the past few years have tested the family's nerves and their faith. They have also brought the family closer.

And through it all, the teens have stayed focused in school. Brittani graduated from Butler High School this year with a 4.06 GPA and plans to attend Saint Mary's College in Indiana. Brandi will be a freshman at Porter Ridge High School in the fall.

Brittani, who plans to become a journalist, said she's thankful for the lessons she has learned this early in life.

The biggest one?

“Material things don't matter anything to me,” she said.

Brittani said it has been a hard lesson to learn.

The family's first fire – started by an overheated lamp – destroyed all their clothes, furniture, pictures and home videos. Their hermit crab, Mo Mo, survived.

It was the first time Brittani had seen her dad cry, she said.

The fire happened the day before cheerleading tryouts at Butler. Brittani went anyway and made the squad.

The second fire, caused by burning incense that fell into a bathroom trash can, wrecked the family's emotions more than their belongings. The fire was contained to the bathroom and an adjoining bedroom; they had to move out while workers made repairs.

Brittani, who had been at Butler's prom the night before, awoke to a funny smell and a sizzling sound. She tried to fall back asleep, but couldn't. Then Brandi came into her room, as black smoke poured through the vents, screaming there was a fire.

“It was just like having to relive the memories,” Brittani said. “I was out in the street saying ‘Why does this have to happen?'”

As a memento, she's keeping a shower curtain ring melted by the fire.

Tony closed his commercial cleaning business about two years ago – he couldn't compete with the lower rates of larger companies, he said – and has been out of steady work since.

His wife, Sharon, works as a resident counselor at Elon Homes for Children.

In January 2007 the Hunters met 20-year-old DonteAntonio McFadden, the son Tony Hunter didn't know he had from a previous relationship.

About two weeks later, McFadden was shot and killed in a west Charlotte robbery attempt.

McFadden died in a gun battle with a McDonald's employee when McFadden tried to rob the store, police said. He had abused drugs and told Brittani he was in a gang, but didn't want his father to know.

The death of her brother inspired Brittani to apply to Butler's Daring to Role-model Excellence as Athletic Mentors, known as the DREAM Team, a program where participants advocate for being drug and alcohol free.

“He made an impression on my life, whether he knew it or not,” Brittani said.

The strength that has kept the Hunter family together lies in their faith, Tony Hunter said.

“Being a family of faith, that's our foundation,” he said. “It's the attitude while you're going through it. You can have all the money in the world and the family's not close.

“I'd rather have the family versus the money.”

Tony Hunter said he has tried to stay strong for his family, so his daughters will have a positive role model. But sometimes it has been his daughters who have kept their parents going.

“Dad gets weak, too,” he said.

All the Hunters have to do now is move back home.

On a recent afternoon, Brandi looked at the boxes sitting in the garage waiting to be unpacked – then turned quickly away. “Oh, my gosh,” she said. “I don't even want to look at that stuff.”

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