Dean Jones, Antoinetta Parrish and Yseem Hammett called out to their trapped Northwest Baltimore neighbors as they dug with their bare hands through the wreckage of a deadly explosion that demolished three rowhouses Monday.
Jones had run, barefoot, from his house three blocks away, after the blast knocked a glass of water off the table on his back porch just before 10 a.m., he said. In the rear alley, he met a scene of massive destruction — as well as Parrish and Hammett, who said they did not previously know one another. Hammett had ditched his crutches — he was shot during a February robbery attempt — to rush to his neighbors’ aid.
“We just jumped in there and started calling out: ‘Hey! Is anyone in there? Call out to us! Call out!’” Jones said. “We heard a faint ‘Hey! I’m right here!’” … I didn’t have shoes on, but we weren’t worried about that.”
Before rescue crews arrived, the neighbors started an assembly line, passing bricks and whole slabs of the houses’ foundation, among the other debris the explosion left everywhere. After digging nearly 5 feet into the wreckage, Jones and Parrish pulled Anita Moore to safety.
Moore, a 55-year-old customer service representative, had been trapped under the wreckage of her house — pinned in the dark under several feet of bricks, plywood and other debris, and yelling herself hoarse for help.
When Moore’s voice gave out, she said, Parrish’s never stopped.
“At one point, I couldn’t yell anymore,” Moore said. “She kept saying, ‘She’s here! She’s here!’ That’s my angel. It was like she was whispering in my ear.”
Jones said the desperate search for his buried neighbors took a toll on him.
“I caught things out of the corner of my eye, like a cereal box, that just reminded me that people lived here,” Jones said. “I just kept thinking, if this was me, I hope someone would be doing this, too.”
At least two people were killed and seven others were wounded in the blast, whose cause was unknown as of late Monday. Moore’s rescue was the biggest of a series of acts of neighborly kindness that took place during the all-day search for victims and survivors on the debris-strewn 4200 block of Labyrinth Road.
Those gathered at the police line clapped in support for the injured as they were wheeled past on stretchers, and when people hugged their loved ones in relief after learning they were unharmed. Total strangers and members of the Baltimore Police Department and Chesed Fund, a Jewish community group, passed out water to neighbors and firefighters working in shifts in the 90-degree heat.
Police and medics tended to a woman who fainted on the front porch of her house in the afternoon. Air conditioning in the nearby homes had gone out when Baltimore Gas & Electric shut off the power and gas service to ensure the homes’ safety, at the Fire Department’s request.
Latanya Heath, who lives 10 doors from the explosion, noticed Moore asking around for a pair of socks. Heath darted toward her. “I’ll go to the Dollar Tree,” she said. There was one a block away on Reisterstown Road. Moore insisted it wasn’t necessary, Heath said.
But Heath, 48, knew someone on the block must have a pair. Weaving across the street through the fire department vehicles, police tape and television news crews, she found Parrish sitting on her porch.
The 43-year-old sent her daughter, Na-Shaé Carter, 20, into the house to get a pair. She returned outside with pink socks in hand.
“I got 10,000 socks,” Parrish said. “One pair ain’t gonna hurt. To give it to somebody in their time of need, I don’t even care. I was out here giving out water. … I wasn’t worried about me. I was worried about my neighbors.”
Earlier that morning, she had run around to neighbors’ houses when rescue crews began arriving on the scene after the blast, yelling, “Y’all, get out! We smell gas!”
First, confused faces stared back at her, Parrish said. Then, black smoke started rising from the rubble of the explosion, and “everybody started running up the street,” she said.
“It was something I don’t ever want to see again,” Parrish said. “I’m just glad I could be there and do what I was always taught, which is to help people no matter what the situation is.”
One person was buried from the neck down, and another was sheltering in a closet when Kevin Matthews, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration building inspector who lives in the block, arrived around 10 a.m.
Matthews, who has lived on Labyrinth Road for 28 years, said he could hear shouting from children trapped: “Come get us! We’re stuck!”
When he walked up the front steps, he realized the house had been razed. A long crack ran between the destroyed house and the one next door.
”I could see the back alley from the front stoop,” he said. “We moved out of the way and let the firemen handle it.”
When Hammett heard the boom, the 22-year-old put on a pair of slides and hurried over as quickly as he could.
”I’m an Eagle Scout,” Hammett said. “When it comes to tragedy, I’m here to help.”
Few details were public about the victim or survivors of the explosion as rescuers continued to search the debris throughout the day Monday for others, fire officials said.
Jones called the group rescue “bittersweet.”
“There were people we couldn’t help,” he said.
BGE, the Fire Department and city housing inspectors went door-to-door through the neighborhood Monday, checking on the safety of residents and their homes.
The American Red Cross worked to assist displaced families and passed out pizza from Papa John’s and water to families outside the Applebee’s in Reisterstown Plaza, which was unharmed in the blast.
Jones graciously granted interviews with news reporters Monday, but he shied from the label some sought to bestow on him. He noted he was far from the only one trying to help.
“I’m not a hero,” Jones said. “I’m just a human being that just was there and I did not run from someone that needed help. That’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to help each other.”
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Baltimore Sun reporter Phillip Jackson contributed to this article.