COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A night of fun landed a Midlands mother in the Augusta Burn Center after fireworks exploded on her lap on the 4th of July at Hand Middle School.
A district representative tells WIS-TV this was not a school-sponsored event.
The Columbia Police Department is investigating whether a crime was committed the night that two families were enjoying the fireworks when an explosion would bring their regular routines to an abrupt end.
"It was horrific," Emily Rawl who was there the night it happened said.
Eager to celebrate the 4th of July, she and her husband decided to watch the fireworks at Hand Middle School with another family, the McCleskeys.
Emily says she and Leah McCleskey were sitting on her blanket that she had spread out.
"Her son was sitting in her lap and then he got up to do another sparkler with his father, Jon," Emily recalled.
Those precious memories would be changed forever in the blink of an eye.
"It was just a giant explosion, right there, and I just saw a huge flash and heard the loudest sound I've ever heard. Me and Leah were side-by-side and I have been told she went three feet in the air. It exploded in her lap. In the exact place that her four-year-old son was sitting a minute before," Emily said.
Leah's husband, Jonathan McCleskey says he turned to see his wife on fire.
"I ran over and I immediately tried to put out the fire. Realized that the stuff in the fireworks was not going to go out and starting removing clothes, as fast as I could, that were on fire," Jonathan said.
He says a group of good Samaritans immediately came over to help, including a doctor who dialed 911.
Emily says her eardrum was ruptured and that she sustained first degree burns on her arm. Leah was in even worse shape.
"8% third-degree burns to her legs and these are large wounds. There's four very large wounds on her legs. She has multiple wounds on her wrists and arms where she had tried to defend herself from the explosion and the blowback went through and got her on the face," Jon described.
Their four-year-old son Conner was unharmed but still scared according to his father.
"Long-term he's going to need a little counseling, a little help, just like the rest of the family but he's in good hands. A lot of love, a lot of support and doing well," Jon said.
Jon continues to work in Columbia while traveling back-and-forth to the Augusta Burn Center.
"She is in discomfort. The hospital has to give her a good amount of pain medications for her to be able to continue through this, but she has the best attitude," Jon said.
Emily describes her best friend, Leah, as, "tough and so positive considering what she's going through. I'm really not sure what happened and that's what we would like to find out."
Jon says he's not sure if this was an accident or intentional. He's hoping that anyone with any pictures or cell phone video from that night will share it with police, as CPD continues to investigate whether a crime was committed that night.
Leah McCleskey is scheduled to have her seventh surgery on Tuesday while recovering at the Augusta Burn Center.