Eric Carver, who’s been serving in Africa since last September as a master sergeant with the Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing, never expected to hear he may not have a home to come back to.
On Dec. 27, his Lake Drive home in East Patchogue was burglarized and set on fire, and his 1997 Chevy pickup truck was stolen but later recovered and impounded. Carver, a New York State trooper, also had a handgun stolen from his house. No arrests have been made, according to Suffolk police.
Without hesitation, his neighbors stepped in to help while Carver finishes his tour.
The Swan Lake Park Civic Association, of which Carver is president, is holding a bracelet and bake sale Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. at 86 Lake Drive in East Patchogue.
It’s part of an effort that includes an online donation drive, which has already raised $9,735 (http://www.giveforward.com/supportforericourlocalhero). Carver's neighbors have a goal of raising $75,000 by April 28. Patricia Sitler, a trustee on the civic association, said the fundraising is meant to help rebuild her neighbor's home before he returns from his tour.
The day of the incident, Debbie Roach, who heads the neighborhood watch, noticed smoke coming from Carver's house, and soon after a group of neighbors congregated out front, watching his home go up in flames.
“Everybody was just standing there crying,” said Roach, 41. “I was there until midnight. As soon as they were done, my husband and others boarded up the house.”
Thomas Roach, the 10-year-old son of Debbie Roach and her husband, Chris, used his Christmas money to purchase red, white and blue bracelets with “hero” engraved on the rubber band for $3. The bracelets can be purchased at https://payments.amazon.com/sdui/sdui/index.htm.
Carver, who has been living in the house for seven years, said in an email that he was relieved to find such a tremendous support system back at home, making it easier to be away.
“To be honest, I’m not surprised by how they are pulling together to help me,” said Carver, 46. “I have seen our community pull together and help each other through many tough times. I am honored to be surrounded by a community that cares so deeply about each other.”
Carver’s next-door neighbor, Rob Sitler, turned on the water hose and tried putting out the fire himself. He spent that night helping board up the doors and exposed walls of the home.
“If I needed him, he would be there for me,” said Sitler, 40, of East Patchogue. “That’s how he is. Our main goal is to try and rebuild this whole place before he gets back. There’s pretty much nothing I wouldn’t do for him.”
Sitler’s wife, Patricia, who is on the board of the civic association, cried while taking pictures of the damage inside Carver’s house.
“There’s just so much he does for the community,” said Sitler, 40. “When someone goes on vacation, he’s the first to volunteer to look after things.”
Sitler described the damage inside Carver’s home as devastating.
“From the outside, it looks like a perfect structure, but inside it’s completely destroyed,” she said. “Everything is gone. For four days my house smelt like burnt plastic. I just can’t even imagine why someone would do something like that.”
Because of the support at home, Carver said in an email that he no longer feels the need to cut his deployment short and can now finish serving his country.
“Due to a support system that is larger and stronger than I could have ever imagined, I can remain at my deployed location,” he said.