River Falls community remembers 6-year-old killed in fire

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The River Falls community is mourning the loss of a 6-year-old girl who died in a house fire on Friday.

Neighbors explained lately it’s been difficult to sleep after a home on the 1400 block of South Wasson Lane caught fire, killing 6-year-old Zaelia Follansbee.

People who knew her said her beautiful spirit and vibrant personality will be missed.

“She was such a bright light and such a cool kid. To be that bright at 6 years old my heart breaks for what her future likely was,” said Chris Kamrath, principal of Westside Elementary School.

Out of the 400 students that roam the halls at Westside Elementary, Kamrath said Zaelia was impossible to forget.

“Every time I’d walk through by her room, she’d come out and say, ‘Good morning Dr. K,’ and give me a hug or show me the work she was working on. She was such a great little artist,” Kamrath said.

It’s one of the memories of Zaelia that Kamrath is holding onto.

When Kamrath isn’t in school, he battles fires for the River Falls fire department. He was called to the fire, but he said somehow he slept through the call.

“I’m sad that I wasn’t there to support others, but I can’t imagine seeing Zaelia,” he said. “I’m thankful that I’m able to remember her the way that I last saw her, which was a warm hug.”

Jenni Omundson is a longtime friend of Zaelia’s dad and used to babysit her.

“She was a good kid, and it’s very tragic. We’re very heartbroken,” Omundson said.

She launched a fundraising effort for the family, hoping to give the child the best memorial possible.  

“To lose a child, let alone lose a child like this, especially around this time of year, it’s unfathomable,” Omundson said.

People who had the privilege to know Zaelia said the little girl’s memory will live on in River Falls.

“While we don’t have the specifics yet, I certainly believe that we will have something in our school garden in her memory in the spring,” Kamrath said.

Counselors will be on standby Tuesday for students and staff to help them process and mourn the tragic loss.

The cause of the fire and where it started is still under investigation.