Many residents who lost their homes in an explosion in Gaithersburg, Maryland, last week are trying to figure out their next steps amid a season that is supposed to be filled with joy and gratitude.
A fiery blast destroyed a building and injured 10 people at the Potomac Oaks condominium complex on Quince Orchard Boulevard on Wednesday, Nov.16. All of the injured have been released from the hospital and are expected to be OK.
Resident Traci DiMartini was at work in D.C. when she learned her home of 19 years was gone.
She's one of the dozens who have had to find temporary housing with friends, relatives or elsewhere. Some are still staying in hotel rooms.
"We’re going to all start from scratch," DiMartini said. "We're all just left figuring this out on our own for the time being, which is very frustrating."
Her cat Rocky was missing after the explosion, but was found safe the next day.
DiMartini said she's trying to focus on the good as the holidays approach.
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"I am going to enjoy my family. I am definitely - Thanksgiving has a whole new meaning," she said.
Having a sense of humor is also helping them get by, she said.
"My daughter and I were making jokes on the way home last night. You know there's the saying 'go big or go home'? Our motto for 2023 is just we're going big because we have no home. And we’ll figure out what to do," DiMartini said.
Her daughter, who was away at college when the explosion happened, saw the site of what used to be their home for the first time this week. Piles of debris are all that remain.
The Explosion's Aftermath
Video and images from the scene right after the explosion showed a massive wall of orange flames and a gaping hole after the blast leveled a portion of the garden-style apartment building. Smoke choked the gap between two jagged edges of the building that apparently was the site of the blast.
A 50-to-75-foot field of debris covered the grass outside the building. Large chunks of bricks, cinderblocks and other building materials mixed with people's personal belongings to make giant piles of rubble.
Police Investigate the Cause
Montgomery County police said they believe Juan Pablo Marshall Quizon intentionally caused the explosion. Crews found his body in the rubble the next day.
Marshall Quizon's manner of death was suicide and the cause of his death was smoke inhalation and burns, the medical examiner ruled.
Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones said evidence, including a suicide note police found, supports the ruling that Marshall Quizon died by suicide. Police spoke to several people close to him and "know for a fact that he made statements that were indicative of intentions of suicide," Jones said.
Marshall Quizon had recently purchased a condo at the Potomac Oaks complex, Jones said.
Someone reported Marshall Quizon missing to Montgomery County police on Wednesday, but they didn't know he owned a condo at Potomac Oaks, Jones said. Land records showed that Marshall Quizon purchased unit #2 at the 826 building in August, according to Jones.
Jones said police don't believe Marshall Quizon intentionally wanted to harm other people, but "if he was still living he would be criminally culpable for injuries and property damage."
Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said a K9 that detects accelerant alerted on items in the rubble Friday and investigators were trying to determine if Marshall Quizon ignited accelerant inside the condo, which could have led to the explosion and fire.
Donations for affected residents are being collected by Montgomery Housing Partners.
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This is at least the third apartment building explosion in Montgomery County in recent years. In 2016, a massive natural gas explosion at the Flower Branch apartments in Silver Spring killed seven people. Earlier this year, an explosion at another building in Silver Spring injured 14 people after a worker accidentally cut a gas line.
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting ‘Home’ to 741741, anytime.