Former resident remembers Richmond Hill Explosion

I went to bed on Nov. 10, 5 years ago today, not knowing that my life would change. I heard a noise in the neighborhood, not a dog barking or car racing by, but a deafening thunder.

My twin bed was not big enough to hold all of my fear. I stumbled down the stairs in my pajamas searching for my family. Glass, drywall and smoke enveloped my house. My instincts helped me escape, and in the blur of shock, I somehow met my family outside. Our eyes searched the smoke for the neighborhood we once knew, but in some way our home transformed into a foreign territory. The fire from 3 houses down was traveling in our direction, so my family and I walked through the glass and drywall on our bare feet to find refuge in a cop car parked in the Mary Bryan Elementary parking lot. I had a life-changing year ahead of me.

Weeks later, the remains of my house were accessible so we could gather any possessions not too badly damaged. By the looks of it, our furniture, decorations, and household items were going to have to be replaced, but we were not finished. One picture frame survived unscathed, and it displayed the Bible verse Deuteronomy 6:10-12. The verse explains that the Lord has blessed us with cities we did not build and houses we did not provide and to remember Him for He has delivered us from evil. I had been raised in a strong Christian home. The experience of not just surviving but finding this verse and finding peace in the storm opened my eyes and made me realize on a new level that God is more than good. As a sixth grader, I had a testimony that lit my heart.

My mom had a friend who she distanced herself from and lost contact for almost three years. She lived three houses down; she had not had contact with her after the explosion and had no idea what happened to her. As the mystery of the explosion began to unpack, it was revealed to the affected families that the tragedy was, in fact, a crime committed for insurance money. My mom’s friend had committed the crime. My family, especially my mom, sat in awe as the truth was revealed. Tears and unsettlement struck my family for months with a lack of understanding why. Why did greed have the power to take over a person? Why would our friend betray us and the rest of the neighborhood? Anger overflowed from the victims. How could someone do this? When will the arrest be made? Months after the arrests, many families still had a burning fire of bitterness towards the criminals inside of them. My parents prayed nonstop and demonstrated to us kids what grace really is. Justice needed to be served, but so did forgiveness. We all owe debt to people, and I did not realize this until the explosion. My eyes were opened to the mercy God shows us and how we are called to react the same to others. Forgiving someone that took everything I knew away from me gave me future knowledge about how to react to others’ aberrations.

When I was a kid, my mom would always say, “God can take away as quickly as he can give.” I never deeply understood what that meant until the tragedy. I had heard sirens in the distance and seen movies that starred kids without parents, but it had always been an abstract concept. On Nov. 10, 2012, I could have lost my parents. I could have been stuck in danger without a policeman. After the explosion, my prayers became longer. Not asking God for peace or for answers, but thanking Him for my family, my friends and our heroes. The explosion taught me to appreciate the littlest things in life because anything could happen next.

It is 2017– five years later– and I am still afraid of the sound of fireworks. I still hold my dad’s hand in the mall like I’m 7- years- old because being so close to losing my family makes me cling to them. The explosion was an awful experience, but I am more than thankful I went through it. As a 16-year- old, I find trusting in God comforting, forgiving easy, and appreciating the little things a habit. My life was forever changed on Nov. 10, 2012, and I am a better person because of it.

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