FREMONT (KPIX 5) – Longtime autism rights activist Feda Almaliti, 43, who fought "boldly and fiercely" for treatment for her autistic son Muhammed, died after she ran back into their burning home to try and rescue him Saturday morning.
The Fremont Fire Department responded to the two-story home on Serra Place at 1:44am, September 26, to find smoke billowing from the front door and flames coming from the rear of the home.
Investigators say Almaliti escaped. Maysoon Salah, Feda's sister, and her daughter Anais escaped as well. But then they realized Muhammed was still inside an upstairs bedroom. Almaliti ran back into the home to look for her son, calling him by an affectionate nickname 'Hammoudeh.'
"I can hear the popping of glass and the faint noises of (Muhammed) crying, 'No, No, No' in response to Feda pleading with him," Maysoon wrote on Facebook. "Hammoudeh, come on we have to go, now, we have to get out now!"
Maysoon tells KPIX 5, there was no sound of a smoke alarm, and that her daughter Anais was first to wake the family up and alert them about the fire.
Longtime friend Karen Fessel, who also has an autistic son, said the children can be overwhelmed by the chaos and commotion.
"He wouldn't go down the stairs," said Fessel. "I'm sure he was just incredibly, sensory overloaded, which is what happens with our kids," said Fessel.
Almaliti was first featured on KPIX 5 in 2009, when she was part a class action lawsuit against Kaiser for denying services to Muhammed, and other autistic children, despite having paid premiums for 25 years.
"The parent going up against the largest health care provider in California. It is a David and Goliath story," Almaliti said in the 2009 report.
The class action lawsuit prevailed, and Almaliti spent the subsequent years working with lawmakers to pass SB 946, that went into effect in 2012, and required insurance companies to cover treatments for autism. More than 97,000 California public school students have been diagnosed as autistic in 2016, according to the California Department of Education.
Firefighters found Feda embracing Muhammed. Paramedics transported mother and son to the hospital, where they were later pronounced deceased.
"This is a tragic and heartbreaking incident. Feda Almaliti courageously risked her life to save her son's," said Fire Chief Curtis Jacobson. "Her actions were selfless and valiant."
"Of course she died trying to save him. Of course," said Fessel. "She had a real way with people but she was fierce about her son. And she loved him fiercely, and when I heard that she died in the fire, I knew. I knew right away that she was trying to save Muhammed. I knew it."
Maysoon urges all families to check to make sure they have working smoke alarms.
In her heart wrenching Facebook post, Maysoon wrote about her sister: "From the day he was born to the day he died, (Feda) fought and sacrificed for her purpose in life, Hammoudeh and autism. And in her fight she found many other warriors to fight with her for all other families that have children with autism. Her worst fear came true but her wish to die with him or after him also came true. She wasn't going to leave him alone in this world."
To pay respects or make a donation to the numerous causes Feda supported, visit https://www.forevermissed.com/feda-mu/about.
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