KEYSTONE — At Ben Hill Middle School, Hillsborough Sheriff's Deputy Ray Rembert is that go-to person, the man students seek out when they need to confide in someone.
"He's an integral part of building our positive school environment," said Linda Garcia, a student intervention specialist at the Carrollwood school. "He's a wonderful co-worker, a joyful, kind person."
On Friday, employees and friends at Ben Hill, where Rembert is a school resource officer, scrambled to help their colleague, a father of four who lost his Keystone home and virtually everything in it in a fire Thursday night.
By morning, a Hillsborough Sheriff's deputy had offered Rembert, a 12-year veteran of the department, and his children — ages 11, 12, 13 and 15 — access to a fully furnished apartment until the family can figure out what to do, Sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said.
And the Rev. Barron Madison announced that the First Missionary Baptist Church of Keystone would collect "money, clothes, whatever for Ray and his family" at a meeting planned for 7 p.m. Monday at the church, 8202 Peterson Road.
Callaway said the Sheriff's Office was accepting donations at its northwest Hillsborough substation, 7202 Gunn Highway, and through a nonprofit organization that assists sheriff's employees during catastrophic events.
"They're in urgent need of clothing at this time," he said. "What would be most helpful would be gift certificates or checks made out to the foundation."
But as charitable efforts were under way, Hillsborough Fire Rescue investigators weren't any closer to figuring out the cause of the blaze. Rembert and his family weren't home when the fire broke out at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
"The fire was very extensive," spokesman Ray Yeakley said. "It's going to take a while to uncover every possibility."
The home, which is owned by the county on land at Peterson Road Park, was built by Charlie Walker, who petitioned Hillsborough Schools to build the Citrus Park Colored School in 1924 and is the namesake of Walker Middle in Odessa.
In exchange for securing the park, locking the gates and turning off the lights, the county provided Rembert the house and paid for his electricity. Rembert was responsible for other bills.
Rodney Thrash can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org or