Madonna Badger's life was seemingly perfect. She had a million-dollar waterfront home, three beautiful little girls and a successful career as a fashion advertising executive.
That life turned upside down when early Christmas morning her Stamford, Connecticut, house burnt to the ground, killing her three young daughters - Lily (9), Grace (7) and Sarah (7) - and her parents - Lomer and Pauline Johnson.
The one thing they can't get out of their minds is her screaming. That voice will stay with them for as long as they live, 25-year veteran Assistant Fire Chief Peter Brown told The New York Daily News.
Badger reportedly screamed My whole life is in there! and My babies, my babies!
Of course, that life will never be the same.
Fortunately, Badger has a group of close friends, many of whom are in the fashion industry, committed to helping her cope. Michelle Kessler-Sanders is one of those friends.
Kessler Sanders, executive vice president and creative director of the Vera Wang Group, talked to The Hollywood Reporter exclusively after she was given permission by the Badger family to speak on their behalf.
I met Madonna Badger in the early nineties when we both worked at Calvin Klein, Kessler-Sanders told THR. I was in the press department, working with the late Carolyn Bessette [who became Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy]. Madonna was the art director, she conceived of the whole Marky Mark/Calvin Klein campaign, which is so iconic. It was an incredible time at the company. I think even Calvin Klein would say that. Narciso Rodriguez was on the design team. It was an amazing staff.
Madonna and I stayed very close. I had her baby shower for her first daughter, Lily. We stayed very close throughout all of our mutual pregnancies. She had my baby shower for me when my son was born She was the very first person who came to the hospital. Although, since she moved to Connecticut, we didn't see each other as much, we remained connected as old friends do.
The tragedy shook Kessler-Sanders. I don't even know how to describe to you how this is for me, she said. For all her friends, it's almost inconceivable. But she has an amazing network of friends who have all shown up. That first day after the fire, we were all together. The children's father, Matthew Badger, is going through this in his own way, very privately. But there has been an enormous outpouring for Madonna.
You can't possibly say anything to comfort a person in this time. You just have to be there and sit with her. Be there so she knows she's not alone. She is being cared for by the right people, close friends. She is not alone.
She learned of the disaster around 7:00 am on Sunday morning, when a mutual friend called to deliver the news. I couldn't absorb it, she said. But over the last couple days, you realize -- it's epic. It's so awful. But here's what I know about Madonna Badger: she is the strongest woman I've ever known in my life, throughout our 20-year friendship. I could not handle this myself. But she will find a way to do good things in her life because of this. It will take time, obviously.
The Connecticut medical examiner's office ruled Wednesday that Badger's daughters and her mother all died of smoke inhalation. Her father died primarily of blunt force trauma to the head and neck. It believed Lomer Johnson fell through a window trying to save his granddaughter