'One in a Million:' Grand Forks fire victim remembered as fierce advocate for women battling addiction
40-year-old Sarah Gatica ran the STEP house for women battling addiction in Grand Forks for nearly a decade.
GRAND FORKS — Forty-year-old Sarah Gatica was killed by a fire inside her North End home the morning of Saturday, Jan. 15. Her 20-year-old son Caden remains hospitalized from smoke inhalation.
Records show he called 911 and told officers he was trapped and had to be rescued.
The Grand Forks fire chief believes the fire was accidental.
Gatica ran the STEP house for women battling addiction in Grand Forks for nearly a decade.
"Those women are so brave, and I think she saw that in them," said Molly Soeby, a longtime friend who worked with Gatica at the former STEP house, helping women with their finances.
Gatica was the director for nearly a decade. It was a treatment program for women, from teenagers to professionals, battling drug and alcohol addiction. Women were allowed to live with their children there as they navigated the program.
"She just had a lot of hope. They have to change everything about themselves, and Sarah could be really tough, but she really loved those girls and worked with them," said Soeby.
One of the women Sarah Gatica helped over the years said, "she was one of the greatest people I ever knew."
"She lived for her son," Soeby said. "He was very important to her, very smart kid, and she taught him to love addicts as much as she did."
Another former co-worker said Sarah was real, raw, blunt with a witty sense of humor, but a fierce advocate for the women who stayed there, loving all of them during their darkest times.
If they stayed sober for a year, Gatica often gave them a job at the house if they needed one.
Soeby found herself hiring some of the women who had turned their lives around to help with her health and wellness company.
Gatica's family owns the iconic IC Muggs in Crookston, a well-known restaurant that has made large contributions to local baseball programs.