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Fire victim remembered as warm, hardworking and going ‘above and beyond’

Family and friends decorated the fence behind the Royal Suite Apartments with pictures of 38-year-old Teuaililo Nua, a mother of two girls who died, her husband said, after jumping out of their third-story apartment window. (Jerzy Shedlock / Alaska Dispatch News)

Thirty-eight-year-old Teuaililo Nua, one of the victims of Wednesday's apartment house fire in Spenard, was someone who dedicated herself to work and family, and constantly strived to help people, her co-workers said.

Her husband, attending a vigil for Nua on Friday with other friends and relatives, was nearby when she died.

Those who knew her at work at the Geo Group's halfway houses, the Midtown Center and Cordova Center, referred to her as "Teu."

Nua had just been promoted a few months ago from a resident monitor at Midtown Center to a case manager at Cordova Center. There, she was responsible for 40 to 50 residents, and her friends say she had a huge impact on all of them.

"She is loved by her residents and staff members," said Nua's cousin, Yolanda Ahfua, a case manager at Midtown Center. "She's a person that will go above and beyond and out of her way to help anybody in any way she can."

Teu Nua worked as a case manager at the Cordova Center transitional facility. She died in the Royal Suite Apartments fire early Wednesday morning. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News file)

Nua was one of two people killed in the Royal Suite Apartments fire, which raged early Wednesday morning and left a building virtually destroyed.

Nua's husband, Toatolualoalii Nua, said his wife and two daughters, ages 5 and 9, were in their third-floor apartment when the building's fire alarm started blaring after midnight. Teu asked him to go check it out — they weren't worried because of several false alarms in the past week, he said.

First, the father checked on his girls. But instead of finding a false alarm, he saw orange and yellow light flickering through the girls' bedroom window. In that moment, he knew they had to escape, he said. He checked the front door of the apartment and the balcony for an escape route, but growing flames made both ways unsafe, he said.

He broke a north-facing window and dropped his daughters, one after the other, onto the ground below. He and his wife checked that the girls were OK before his wife started climbing out, Toatolualoalii said.

She pushed herself out the window but hesitated. Toatolualoalii said he grabbed her arm. He let go and watched her fall the three stories, he said.

"She hit the bottom and looked up at me, and then, I don't know, she just fainted," he said.

He leaped to the ground. The family was alone outside behind the apartments for a brief moment before neighbors started breaking their windows and jumping to escape the fire as well, Toatolualoalii said.

By then, police and paramedics had arrived. They brought a ladder to a fence behind the building so residents could climb over, he said. His daughters safely got over the fence but his wife lay on the ground unconscious. The husband said he was concerned about her but did not want to lose track of his girls.

He climbed over the fence himself and found emergency personnel caring for his daughters. His attention shifted back to his wife. Firefighters had cut the fence open, and paramedics brought her through the opening on a stretcher and took her to an ambulance.

A short time later, she was removed from the ambulance. Toatolualoalii Nua said he knew his wife had died.

"I went and lay down by her and said my final goodbyes," he said.

He cut his leg in the escape, though he's not sure when it happened. The 9-year-old suffered minor cuts and the younger daughter had scratches on her back, he said.

Back at work earlier in the day Friday, cousin Ahfua remembered Teu Nua from the village in American Samoa where they both grew up, Tafuna. She said they both caught the bus to school together as young girls. Later, they ended up working together in Anchorage.

Before moving to Alaska, Nua lived in Hawaii, where Ahfua believes she earned an associate degree in criminal justice from Remington College in Honolulu.

Friends recall Nua as a fast learner at work, always striving for perfection and excited to help people transition from the halfway house back into society.

"She was the kind of person who, if you didn't like her, she would make you — with her cheer and her jokes," Ahfua said.

While Nua was dedicated to her work, her former boss at the Midtown Center said her first priority was being a mom.

"She was all about those kids," said Silifu Tito, facility director at that center.

One of the best recent memories of Nua by staff at the halfway houses was from earlier this week, on Valentine's Day. Cordova Center facility director Stacy Cross had handed out holiday gift bags with candy and small containers of Play-Doh.

Nua wrote a Facebook post that night, playfully thanking her boss for the gift. She said that she was "feeling special." Friends later joked about wanting to have a Play-Doh date the next day.

"I said, 'I'm going to come to the third floor (where Nua worked) and have a Play-Doh date,' " said Katie Jensen, a booking officer at the Cordova Center. "And the next day, she wasn't here."

When he saw that Facebook post, Cross said, he broke down.

"It's always good when someone is happy at work, but she wasn't just happy, she was involved. She loved life," he said.

Tuloto Pou was another friend of Nua's. They both were promoted from the Midtown Center to be case managers at the Cordova Center at the same time last year. Pou remembers Nua always being dedicated, very humble and always talking about her daughters.

"She's like a sister," said Pou, who shared an office with Nua. "We pushed each other to do a good job."

One halfway house resident was tearful when he heard about Nua's death, Pou said, adding that Nua had helped him make a phone call to his mom the night before.

"We try to cope with it but it's still fresh," said Ahfua. "The fact that she's gone and I'm not going to get that phone call anymore. If she called and didn't have a question about work, she'd ask, 'What are you guys eating?' " she said with a laugh. "That's us. We like to eat."

Co-workers nicknamed Nua "Miss Mountain Dew" for her diligence in bringing the neon soda to work every day.

"It's almost like doing everything right and then it gets taken away," said Tito, tears rolling down her cheeks.

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