Laquanda Burroughs and her husband were getting ready to downsize from their four-bedroom home in Charlotte, North Carolina. But when Burroughs took in her sister’s four children, they suddenly found their empty space filling up.
It’s a blessing wrapped in a hardship: The family was rocked recently when Burroughs’ sister, Chaz Bush, was accused of murdering her 2-and-a-half-month-old son.
Police have declined to provide more details, but Bush was charged last month with murder and felony child neglect resulting in serious injury. Prosecutors say the case is “still pending,” and Bush is next scheduled to appear in court in April. She has not entered a plea, and her attorney could not be reached.
She remains in custody. Her four kids, ages 13 months to 11, had nowhere to go until their aunt stepped in.
“There was just no other option,” Burroughs, 39, tells PEOPLE. “I felt like this is something I needed to do.”
There were hurdles: Burroughs is a postal worker with no children of her own — she didn’t even have beds for the kids to sleep in. And she was coping with the death of her nephew.
“It’s been tough,” she says. “It’s been overwhelming. It’s been a lot.”
That was something the homicides detectives working the case could relate to, in their own way.
“It’s pretty tough, having children of my own,” Charlotte Mecklenburg police Detective Shana Isenhour tells PEOPLE. “It’s tough to work a child death of any kind, especially one like this.”
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When she learned that Burroughs would be taking in her sister’s kids, Isenhour wanted to help: “I felt like we needed to do whatever we could to help her succeed in caring for these children.”
“I think it’s amazing what she’s doing for her sister’s children,” Isenhour says. “She’s taking on four children where she had none of her own, and that is a major responsibility she has taken on.”
Isenhour recruited help from fellow officers and local charities and managed to get donations of toys and clothing … and beds for the four kids.
“I was shocked,” Burroughs says of the gifts. “And especially with all the bad press cops get — you have bad apples — I was shocked they wanted to reach out like that, and I’m very appreciative.”
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Burroughs says she doesn’t have mixed emotions that the very officers who helped put her sister in jail are the ones helping her family now.
“They’re doing their job, but they’re also helping out because they see the help is needed,” she says.
And they plan to stick around.
“These children have a chance because the family stepped up and we have a great community that helped,” Detective James Hoppe tells PEOPLE. “It’s a great feeling, and we hope to check with them down the road and see them succeeding.”
Burroughs says she has no idea what the future holds, but she is sure her house will be filled with a lot of love.
“I’m here for the long haul,” she says, “for however long it takes.”