Update:  Embers or hot ashes from a living room fireplace caused the fire that killed the Speer family of 6 early Thursday, the Nebraska State Fire Marshall’s Office said Monday.

In a statement reported by the AP, the office said the flames erupted in combustible materials near the fireplace and spread rapidly to furnishings and up the walls of the two-story farmhouse.

All six were found in bed. A preliminary autopsy said they died from smoke inhalation.

How does one possibly absorb the kind of news that arrived Thursday from North Platte High School — Class of 1998:

I regret to inform everyone who doesn’t already know of the tragic news as fellow Class of 98er Michelle (Collins) Speer, her husband Mike, and their four children were killed in a house fire last night. Please keep their friends and family in your thoughts and prayers . . . Rest in Peace Michelle, Mike, Elli, Adilynn, Emma and Anniston.

“This breaks my heart,” responded a classmate. “I can’t even imagine.”

Neither could anyone else.


Mike Speer’s dream had always been to own some land and a home out in the country, his neighbors say. In August, that dream came true.

Mike, and his wife, Michelle, packed up and with their children — Elli, Adilyne, Emma and Anniston, ranging in age from 2 to 10 — and moved to a small, two-story farm house on a gravel road surrounded by soybean fields in Nehawka, Neb.

The nearest small town, six miles away, is Weeping Water, a name that now seems unbearably evocative.


The 911 call came in shortly after midnight Thursday, the Nebraska fire marshal’s office told local media, and the caller said people were inside.

Ryan Adams, a family friend and volunteer firefighter, told the Omaha World-Herald that the fire was so intense it was visible from four miles away in the darkness. By the time the first crews arrived, the house was “pretty much almost fallen in and fallen down,” Adams told the paper. “We had a quick response time,” he said, “but it was down and fully engulfed.”


Fire crews could not gain entry. The house burned to the ground, with everyone inside. The cause is under investigation.

Mike’s brother Jared Speer told The Washington Post it was his understanding that it was “fireplace related,” a buildup of creosote, the highly combustible residue of burning wood which, if allowed to accumulate in chimneys can produce an inferno.


Officials have not confirmed that publicly.

“Friends looked on in disbelief as they saw fire crews dousing the embers of what was once, their friend’s home,” reported KLKN TV.

Just like that. A whole family.

All that’s left are loving memories: Pictures of the mom in her running outfit, the children in their pajamas posed in front of their Christmas stockings, family hugs, the soccer matches, hatching monarch butterflies.


Mike and Michelle both worked for the Union Pacific Railroad, “as I do and our mother and father, the whole family practically,” his brother Jared told The Post via Facebook Messenger. It was a family tradition.

Mike was a dispatcher at the railroad, based in Omaha. Michelle was listed on the Union Pacific web site as a senior manager for customer centric.

Jared, who said he was too exhausted to speak, sent along something he wrote up:


“My brother Mike was a good man,” he wrote, “a hard worker that loved his family and would do anything he could for them. He was an avid hunter and fisherman and loved the outdoors. It was his second home.”

Michelle “loved to run,” he said, “and those little girls were her life and soul.”


The oldest, Elli, “loved soccer and was a huge help in bringing up the other girls, helping with whatever needed to be done with a large family like this,” he added.

“Adilyne, she was the shy one, a very bashful girl but with a heart of gold. She looked just like daddy, the spitting image.”

Emma, he said, “loved to dance and sing. She would steal her momma’s phone and make videos of herself singing and dancing.”

Anniston, “was like any 2 year old, rambunctious and also very sweet and loving, always making these funny faces.”


This was a family with friends — and tributes and condolences came pouring in.

Mike Speer, who many Herington railroaders knew for years as Dispatcher 72 JMS, lost his life along with his entire family this morning in a tragic house fire. Please take time to say a prayer for the friends and family of the Speers who are suffering from this shocking tragedy. A wonderful person who loved his family.

Wrote Jared: “There is a huge hole left now in our hearts that will never be filled.”

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