It was the perfect cast for 'Extreme Makeover', five orphaned siblings that had lost both parents, the Higgins family and the Leomitis family who took them into their home when they were found to be all but destitute after their parents death.
The Higgins family lost their parents suddenly. The mother Charis from breast cancer and the father Charles died of heart failure two months later. A sad an unexpected series of events for the five kids that ranged in age from 14 to 21. Charles II, Michael, Charis, Joshua and Jeremiah all were left with no other relatives to help. To pay for their mothers funeral they had to raise $6,000. When their father passed they had no way to pay. So the family pastor, Rex Herndon paid for his cremation.
They were living in a rented apartment In Downey until the Leomitis family who's children knew them when they were also living Downey asked them to stay with them in Santa Fe Springs.
"I've had to step up and be a man about everything and take care of the kids, but what's really helped me a lot is the Leomitis took my family in, so it takes a load off me," Charles said.Pastor Herndon received calls and donations for the Higgins family including calls from "Extreme Makeover" producers so he put them in touch with both families.
"These kids had nowhere to go and we knew as a family we couldn't let the streets swallow them up," the Leomitis said in their handwritten application to the producers. "They had nothing, no money to bury their parents, no money to live. To make a long story short, our goal as a family is to give these kids a chance in life."The Leomitis family signed a contract allowing their home to be rebuilt and a separate contract was signed by both families for rights to their stories.
The families were sent on a Bahamas cruise while it was being built. The house went from a three-bedroom two-bath home to a whopping nine-bedroom six-bath home with a backyard the was Polynesian-themed in celebration of the Leomitis' Samoan heritage.
When the new home was shown to them in Feb 2005 they found that the builder had paid off the mortgage and they had been given other gifts such as 2 years of groceries, computers and six cars, three for each family.
The happiness quickly faded as within a few weeks the oldest Charles and Michael who were 21 and 19 moved out and soon after the other children moved also.
In August a lawyer was hired by the "orphans" to sue the Leomitis family, ABC and its parent Walt Disney Co., "Extreme Makeover" producers and the company that renovated the house.
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages on allegations of fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract, although that last count has since been dismissed.The Higgins family are now claiming that the Leomitis family became greedy and perpetrated deceptions on them. Using racial remarks that insulted and offended them.
The Leomitis declined to comment, citing the pending trial. "We're just going to wait — and let the truth prevail," Loki Leomitis told The Times.The pastor Herndon who has helped the Higgins family wrote in papers that were submitted to the court that the older Higgins brothers "balked at getting jobs to help support their siblings" and that they did not want to follow the Leomitis' family house rules.
"I believed that a house would be built for my brothers and sister and I to permanently live in," Charles said in court papers. "It was my understanding that we would win the home with the Leomitis.""The producers found plaintiffs living in the Leomitis' home as guests. The producers left plaintiffs living in the Leomitis' home as guests," they wrote in court papers. "The producers left plaintiffs in a better position, since the home was bigger and plaintiffs were given a number of valuable items."
After the Higgins family left the home of the Leomitis family the producers of the show tried to mediate with both families to find a solution to the issues that were brought out, but were unable to find a peaceful solution.
"The truth lies somewhere in between" the orphans' claims of verbal abuse and the Leomitis' contention that they had misbehaved.The trial was to start on Monday but has been postponed due to an injury the new court date has not been mentioned at this time.