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Akron teacher becomes guardian of former student who lost family in fire

Posted: 6:09 PM, Aug 14, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-14 18:26:16-04

A special needs teacher continues to make a life-changing difference in the life of a former student who lost her family in an Akron house fire.

Kim Canterbury and her husband Marc took several steps to become the legal guardians of 13-year-old Shaniya Simpson. The girl, who has autism, has lived with the couple in their Cuyahoga Falls home since the tragedy.

"I can't imagine being in her shoes," Kim Canterbury said. "I can't imagine being in a situation where something happened to us and our child had to survive. Let alone have a disability."

In December of 2016, a fire raced through a rental home on East Tallmadge Avenue. Shaniya's mom and dad, Shirley Wallis and Omar Riley, were killed, long with her two younger sisters, Aniyla Riley and Shanice Riley.

"She was the prettiest girl," Shaniya said when she was asked about Shanice.

Rescue crews had to resuscitate Shaniya, who was treated at Akron Children's Hospital.

When she opened her eyes, her sixth-grade teacher from Hyre Middle School, Mrs. Canterbury, was there waiting.

From that point forward, it didn't take long for the caring teacher to decide she wanted to provide a new home for Shaniya.

"We just did it. We never questioned. We never questioned it," Canterbury said.

"She sprouted fast," Marc Canterbury added. "She got here, and I think from day one, she started feeling it was home."

The couple has two biological girls, Emma, 8, and Abby, 5, who described Shaniya as sweet, kind and loving.

"She's 110 percent part of the family," Kim Canterbury stressed.

Canterbury is now a stay-at-home mom, but always the teacher, she wants the tragedy to be a teachable moment when it comes to smoke detectors. There were no working smoke detectors in the house where Shaniya's family died.

"It is so important," she said. "It would have saved four lives."

The generosity of Shaniya's former teacher is something the girl may never fully understand, but she's happy at the home and also brings a lot of joy to Kim, Marc and their kids.

"We feel blessed," Canterbury said. "She's like our daughter."