Will Frece walked slowly toward the gated property at the end of Childs Point Road Tuesday afternoon, knelt down and placed flowers at the gate.
Frece then stood at the end of the driveway and stared at the smoldering ruins of a 16,000-square-foot mansion that burned down early Monday morning.
Six people, believed to have been inside the home when it caught fire, were still missing.
"I feel completely drained," said Frece, who used to work for homeowner Don Pyle at his software company, Netcordia. "I can't believe it's happening. Even staring at it, it's not real to me."
While county fire officials have not confirmed the six missing people were killed, they hadn't been able to locate them as of Tuesday evening. Fire officials have confirmed two adults and four children are missing, though they would not identify them.
But in a letter obtained by The Capital, Severn School Headmaster Douglas Lagarde said Don and Sandra Pyle and their four grandchildren died in the four-alarm blaze. The grandchildren were identified by Lagarde as Wes and Charlotte Boone, and Katie and Lexi Boone.
In a message to her friends on Facebook Tuesday, Stacey Boone, mother of Lexi and Katie, said: "I never knew that I could hurt this badly. It's unreal. All one big nightmare that I can't wake up from."
A man outside of Stacey Boone's Riva home Tuesday afternoon requested privacy for the family during "this difficult time."
Frece was one of nearly a dozen people who came to the 8-acre property on the banks of Church Creek Tuesday afternoon to pay their respects. A makeshift memorial was set up at the gate, with flowers, teddy bears and signs reading "We will miss you" and "We love you."
Tracy Jackson and her children Caylin and Kyle paused briefly after placing a stuffed purple bear and orange lizard next to the growing memorial. The family knew the children through Severn School.
"We want them to know we are praying for them," Jackson said.
When asked about the missing children, Caylin said, "It's sad. Really sad."
Tears fell from Kyle's eyes as he gave his name.
Although fire officials do not suspect foul play in the massive fire, they said they will continue to investigate the incident as a crime scene until they have more information.
Because of the size of the house and the amount of debris that collapsed into the basement, they said, the investigation will take a long time.
"It will be days, not hours, to get this done," said Capt. Russ Davies, a fire department spokesman.
There are issues of water in the basement, unstable steel beams and unstable walls that need to be mitigated before personnel can be placed in to the basement to begin digging out, Davies said.
A crane and other heavy equipment were brought in around midday Tuesday. They will be used to move the debris.
Fire crews are planning to search for the six unaccounted for people rain or snow Wednesday, Davies said.
The National Weather Service forecasts snow before noon with rain and snow to follow.
"We are going forward with operations regardless of the weather," Davies said.
He also said investigators are considering bringing in cadaver-sniffing canines and possibly canines trained to detect explosives accelerants.
Firefighters were suppressing "hot spots" at the home Monday and Tuesday. Plumes of smoke were wafting from the house, and officials said a fire was still burning in part of the basement.
Most of the firefighters left around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, save for an engine kept on the scene overnight to battle any flare-ups. Officials said they will attempt to get search crews into the home Wednesday.
Just before noon Tuesday, painting contractor Gary McGurk arrived at the scene. He said he came to pay his respects because he had worked with the family.
"It's very tragic," McGurk said. "Anything like this, it strikes at the heart of the community."
Former County Councilman Jamie Benoit said he knew the four missing children.
"My wife, Kari, and I have heard from the parents, they have confirmed the worst news," Benoit said. "It is devastating news. It is really tragic."
The county fire department has requested help from the National Response Team at the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Davies said.
He said the team can provide special equipment needed to remove steel bars that collapsed into the basement of the two-story structure.
Special Agent David Cheplak, an ATF spokesman at the scene, said the agency is providing help in part due to the size of the residence, which he likened to that of a church or warehouse.
Cheplak said about 15 to 20 ATF agents will be involved, but Anne Arundel fire officials will continue to lead the investigation.
Davies said efforts were continuing to contact some of the missing people by their cellphones, but so far there has been no response.
"From the family, we know who's unaccounted for," Davies said. "If you look at the damage, you know it would not be a stretch to think that if there were occupants that they did not survive the fire."
On Monday Davies said that "there's a possibility that they're out of town, but we are operating under the premise that there were people inside."
Fire dispatchers began receiving calls at 3:30 a.m. about the blaze at 936 Childs Point Road, about a mile south of Forest Drive. The first call came from a home security company.
The mansion was "heavily involved," Davies said, and firefighters weren't able to enter due to smoke and flames. The huge structure also was collapsing.
Fire officials immediately called for second and third alarms. Due to the size of the house, the extent of the fire and a lack of nearby fire hydrants, a fourth alarm was sounded a short time later.
More than 80 firefighters from several jurisdictions battled the blaze. With no fire hydrants in the area, a fire boat and tanker trucks were brought in, some from as far away as Prince George's County, Davies said.
The tanker trucks can carry between 2,500 and 3,000 gallons of water, which gave the fire crews something to douse the fire with before the fireboat arrived, Davies said. Once the fireboat arrived, it was able to pump about 2,000 gallons of water a minute into the blaze from nearby water sources.
The fire wasn't under control until 7:05 a.m.
Tax records show the home and property were worth $6.2 million. The home, which had seven bedrooms and 7 1/2 bathrooms, was completed in 2005.
Neighbors referred to the house as "the castle." The couple's mailbox is in the shape of a castle. Christmas decorations were still hanging from the front gate Tuesday.
A representative of White and Williams LLP, a Philadelphia law firm that represents AIG, the company that insured the property, told The Capital the property was worth $13.9 million.
A cause has not yet been determined.
There were two fatal fires in the county last year.
Keith Murray, who lives nearby, said the neighborhood is "pretty frantic" as residents await information about the Pyles.
County Executive Steve Schuh arrived on the scene Monday after hearing of the blaze.
"We are hoping and praying there is no loss of life."
Manfried Leckszes, who lives about 500 yards from the home, said he woke up at 4:30 a.m. and noticed an orange glow in his bedroom. He said he looked outside and saw the fire, and then a fireboat coming up the creek from the South River.
"It was like an inferno," he said. "The flames seemed to shoot straight up."
Another neighbor, Anne Tiffany, described the Pyles as "lovely people."
"They've always been kind to me," she said.
Neighbor Caroline Wugofski said the Pyles often had parties at their home. She described them as "genuinely nice people."
"When my husband died, I was in a state of shock, but Don said, 'How can I help you?'" Wugofski said.
"If you needed a good friend, they would step in."
According to an Oct. 12, 2014, interview in The Washington Post, Don Pyle is the chief operating officer of ScienceLogic, a Reston, Virginia-based IT company that monitors the networks of corporations and government agencies to ensure they run efficiently. The story said the 55-year-old Pyle resides in Annapolis with his wife Sandy.
A representative of ScienceLogic told The Capital that Pyle had two adult sons.
The Baltimore Business Journal's online archive says the Pyles hosted the fourth annual Ripkens Uncorked Wine Tasting at their home in 2010. The event raised $140,000 for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.
A check of The Capital's online archives shows Don Pyle obtained a $42,380 grading permit in 2012 for a steep slope stabilization project on the property.
Staff writer Tim Prudente contributed to this story.