FREMONT, Calif. - A Fremont woman who died in a house fire along with her son was remembered Monday as a fervent advocate for those with autism.
Feda Almaliti and her 15-year-old son Muhammed were killed in a fire that swept through their home on Serra Place at about 2 a.m. Monday.
The fire apparently started in the kitchen, but the cause is under investigation by the Fremont Fire Department.
"They got the chainsaws going, the roof trying to cut it, they get in, the fire restarts," said Lavelle Botelho, a neighbor. "They pulled two people out, they were walking. And then the pulled another two out."
Almaliti had gotten out of the house at first but went back inside to try to save her son, who had a severe form of autism, said her friend Sarah Trautman. Firefighters found them together.
"She was embracing Muhammed," Trautman said.
Almaliti was respected in the Bay Area and across the nation for speaking out on behalf of those with autism. She and her son were inseparable.
"Muhammed was the center of her universe. There is no way that she - she couldn't exist in a world without him, and he couldn't exist in a world without her," said Trautman, a trained behavior analyst who produced a podcast with Almaliti focusing on autism and advocacy.
In a recent interview with Trautman, Almaliti said, "I love kids with autism, obviously, and I care about them and I want them to all get the treatment that they deserve. I didn't want one more family, you know, to go through all those sleepless nights not knowing if their kids are going to make progress or if they can get the therapy for them."
Almaliti served on local and national councils on autism. She helped get a bill passed in California that requires insurance companies to cover treatment for autism.
"She was such a gift to the the autism community, because she had this way of connecting with people and this compelling way of sharing her story that brought people in and really galvanized people to take action," Trautman said.