Updated with information from family members:
DE SOTO — You didn’t want to go to the grocery store with Joe Detter because he knew everyone and had to stop to chat, said his son, James Detter. He would get a call from a wrong number, and talk to the person for half an hour.
James Detter, 49, walked around the charred remains of his parents’ De Soto home with friends and family on Sunday in disbelief over the loss of his father, mother, sister and niece — all killed in an early morning fire.
Family members identified those killed as couple Joe and Frances Detter, ages 76 and 74; Sherri Detter, 37; and Kari Detter, 18.
Two men, boyfriends of the younger women, managed to escape by jumping from second-story windows, family members said. One man remains in the hospital with serious burns.
Firefighters were dispatched to the home in the 500 block of Vineland School Road at 2:08 a.m., but it was too late to save the victims trapped inside, according the De Soto Rural Fire Protection District. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
James Detter, of nearby Bloomsdale, is one of Joe and Frances Detter’s seven children. He described how his dad worked as building inspector for the city of Hillsboro for five years after working as an inspector for Franklin County.
Joe Detter also worked for General Motors, served in the Army National Guard and held jobs as a police officer and restaurant manager. He held leadership roles in countless community organizations, including the De Soto Lions Club, the American Legion and Joachim Masonic Lodge in Hillsboro.
“He helped everybody. There isn’t a person in this town he hasn’t done something for,” James Detter said. “He is going to be missed by everyone. He is going to missed everywhere.”
James Detter’s daughter Kelsey Detter, 27, of Herculaneum, remembers her grandfather as the one who was always flipping the hamburgers at the city fireworks show or community barbecue. She’s watched him help those in need with everything from laptop computers and eyeglasses to medical exams and walkers.
“Everybody knows Joe Detter,” she said.
James Detter last saw his family around 5 p.m. Saturday night, when they were putting together baskets of donated items for the upcoming Lions Club mouse race fundraiser.
State Rep. Elaine Gannon of De Soto, who recently won election for a state Senate seat, stopped by the home Sunday with her husband, Jefferson County Executive Dennis Gannon to offer condolences.
“He wanted to do good. He wanted to make things better,” said Gannon, who remarked how Joe Detter often helped her put up election signs despite having once run against her in the 2012 state representative race.
Hillsboro Mayor Buddy Russell also stopped to visit, James Detter said. People left bouquets of flowers.
The city of Hillsboro issued a statement noting that Joe Detter was a dedicated city employee, but above all, he was a servant to the community.
“The Detters’ legacy will be one of service to their community. The voids they leave will be felt by so many,” the statement read.
Frances Detter was a steadfast mom and wife, quietly supporting her family from behind the scenes, family members said. The couple had celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary this year.
Sherri Detter was the youngest of the seven siblings. She worked in the Jefferson County Election Authority office.
She was silly and funny, and family members called her “Sissy Sherri,” Kelsey Detter said. “She was a good aunt to all of us.”
Kari Detter had just finished high school and was staying at her grandparents’ home. Her mom, Kimberly Detter, shared a painful post on Facebook: “I’m still in shock...numb....and don’t know how we are supposed to get through this. Please pray for us.”
James Detter said Kari Detter’s boyfriend told him how he woke to being surrounded by flames, which had burned the stairs to their second-story bedroom. He had tried to get Kari Detter to jump out the window with him.
“She wouldn’t jump,” James Detter said. “He looked up and she was gone.”
On Sunday, the family managed to find charred bits of pictures, a statue of an angel and vintage glass baskets that Fran Detter collected among the rubble.
A large American flag that waved on a flagpole close to the home somehow escaped the flames. James Detter lowered it to half-staff.
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