Disabled Mississippi veterans left homeless after apartment torched by arsonist

Published 1:10 pm Saturday, January 29, 2022

John Russelman was getting ready for work before dawn when he saw a bright light through the window and realized a fire was raging at his Biloxi apartment building.

Russelman didn’t know it then, but he was the victim of an arson attack. Biloxi police determined that the fire was started deliberately.

The Nov. 15 fire destroyed the building and upended the lives of the three disabled veterans living at Rodenberg Apartments, who lost virtually all of their possessions, The Sun Herald reported. None of the residents had rental insurance, so they couldn’t be compensated for what they lost.

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More than two months later, the three men still have no idea when they’ll have a place to call home again.

Russelman estimates that he lost between $2,500 and $5,000 worth of possessions, including two televisions.

After the fire, the Red Cross gave the three displaced residents bank cards loaded with $500 each, and the Department of Veterans Affairs temporarily housed them for less than a week in an extended-stay hotel in D’Iberville.

After that, they were offered housing at a Salvation Army shelter in downtown Mobile, Alabama, where Russelman lives today. Another veteran, Mike King, departed for the Midwest. The third displaced veteran couldn’t stay at the Salvation Army due to its lack of wheelchair accessibility, so he moved to another transitional housing facility in Mobile, where he stayed for most of January.

At the Salvation Army shelter, Russelman shares a room with three other former Marines.

“I just love the neighborhood because of the old houses and stuff, walking around,” he said, adding that the food is good. But the facility houses around 30 long-term residents and admits as many as an additional 30 for a one-night stay on a cold night.

King has moved back to Illinois and is staying with his ex-wife and their two daughters. He is now a two hours’ driving distance from the nearest VA facility. At the Rodenberg Apartments, he was just a mile from the Biloxi VA and could catch an Uber or a ride with a friend when he needed medical assistance.

For now, Russelman is waiting for news from the VA about a new apartment.