As he left school for the last time, 8-year-old Troy Douglas was planning to meet up with friends and relatives to play laser tag at a cousin's birthday party, his family said Thursday.
But on his way home from William Paca Elementary School in Southeast Baltimore on Wednesday, Troy was killed while walking past a rowhouse that burst into flames. His family searched for him throughout the afternoon, going to the scene of the fire and his school before rescuers found his body in the rubble.
Troy's mother, Shanika Brown, is in disbelief, still waiting for an explanation for the disaster. People who were nearby at the time said the house — in the 400 block of N. Lakewood Ave. — exploded before it caught fire, sending bricks and debris in the street.
The cupcakes for the birthday party are still in the refrigerator, said another cousin of Troy's, Kentrella Williams.
Brown said her son, a third-grader they called "Li'l Troy," was a sweet, lovable boy. He was an avid basketball player and a fan of the Miami Heat. He dreamed of playing professionally when he grew up.
"You never expect for your son to come out of school and … be gone," Brown said. "I told him to have a good day at school. That was it."
Fire officials have not released a cause of the fire, and have not confirmed that an explosion occurred.
"Out of respect for the family, it is of the utmost importance that we conduct a thorough investigation, that we get it right, so we know exactly what happened," said Ian Brennan, a Fire Department spokesman. He could not say how long the investigation would take.
Three other people — two adults who were in the house and another child outside when the fire started — were taken to area hospitals with serious injuries that weren't considered life-threatening. Authorities have not identified the other victims.
Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. crews remained at the scene throughout the day Thursday to assist in the investigation. Spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said crews continue to check infrastructure to make sure it wasn't damaged when the building collapsed. Officials have not determined whether a gas leak triggered the incident.
Lighty said the company has found no records of a service call for the house in the day before the blast. When the company is called to investigate a possible leak, it either makes repairs or shuts off service.
Cheron Porter, a spokeswoman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, said the residents of the home at 447 N. Lakewood were Section 8 tenants, so the home underwent regular inspections by the city.
"Baltimore Housing has inspected the house as recently as Dec. 31 of 2013 and found no safety or health hazards," she said.
Troy's mother began to worry Wednesday after another son called her to tell her that he had not come home from school.
"My knees buckled and tears came to my eyes. I didn't want to think [the worst]," she said.
Family members had heard about the fire and went to the scene to look for Troy, wading through the crowds of onlookers snapping pictures with their phones.
Williams, Troy's cousin, had been waiting anxiously, along with their grandmother, as firefighters dug through the rubble. It was after dark when she got a phone call from another relative to tell her firefighters had found Troy's body. She started sobbing.
Travis Moore, 32, who lives on Jefferson Street, behind the house that burned, said he and his cousin heard a blast that rattled the windows of his home. They attempted to search for survivors, but the fire got too hot.
"We couldn't save the kids," he said.
Some neighbors said the Fire Department was slow to react. But Brennan said the department was dispatched at 3:01 and responded in just over five minutes, within the national standards.
"They got the dispatch and came as fast as possible. We understand for people on the scene it feels like an eternity," he said.
Edith Agosto lives on Orleans Street and has two children who attend William Paca, including a son in Troy's class.
"I just can't believe it," Agosto said. "I could see everything from my house. That's not something you expect to see looking out your door, getting your kids from school."