By Marielle Mohs

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Fridley fourth grader is spending her first day of school in the hospital.

Nine-year-old Taraji White was trapped in a van when it caught on fire at a Walmart parking lot on August 6. Taraji’s 6-year-old sister, Ty’Rah, was also in the van, but she did not survive.

It’s now been almost a month, and doctors say Taraji still has “a long road ahead.”

READ MORE: Family Of Girl Burned In Fridley Car Fire Seeks Help With Medical Expenses

“This year, this week, yeah, it’s pretty tough for me, it’s pretty tough,” said Essie McKenzie, the girls’ mother.

Taraji is still recovering in the hospital, while dealing with the grief of losing her little sister

Taraji White (credit: Essie McKenzie)

“She actually breaks down. You know, for a 9 year old, she’s holding a lot of weight right now, a lot of guilt,” said McKenzie.

Taraji’s mom is staying by her daughter’s side until she’s healthy enough to go back home. She says Taraji has a blood clot in her lungs, severe burns on her skin and needs tubes to help her eat and breathe. But she is alive, and taking steps towards improvement every day.

“That’s what keep me together. Her strength keeps me together, it does, because she has been through a lot,” said McKenzie. “Every day she wakes up, every day she goes to sleep.”

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Even though McKenzie’s oldest child, 11-year-old Terrell, was not in the vehicle that caught fire. He is staying at the hospital, too. Terrell’s school, Coon Rapids Middle School, has coordinated a bus to pick him up and drop him off at the hospital until further notice.

“They try to be supportive, to see what can they do to make sure he’s safe,” said McKenzie.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with Taraji’s mounting medical bills.

Marielle Mohs