The floors were lacquered and shining, the grass was mowed, and the handicapped-access tracks and ramps in the new, $800,000 Pasadena home were ready for use.
Just miles away, in Washington, Sgt. David Battle, a triple amputee from injuries he suffered in Iraq, sat in the small suite he, his wife, Lakeisa, and four children have shared at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the past year and a half.
Their bags were packed. A nonprofit group, Homes for Our Troops, and hundreds of Maryland volunteers had built the home from scratch. The Battles were to accept the keys at a patriotic ceremony Thursday.
It never took place. Just the night before, organization officials learned the Battles already own two homes in Georgia, a fact they said the family concealed until they were confronted with evidence Wednesday.
"We're shocked," said John Gonsalves, the founder of Homes for Our Troops, which has helped build 40 houses for injured veterans in 30 states. "It's disappointing anyone would take advantage of a community's big heart this way."
A tearful Lakeisa Battle said the family didn't know they had to disclose their ownership of other properties, which she said they bought as investments after arrangements for the Anne Arundel County home were set.
The tangled story began in 2007, when Battle - an infantry private who was born in La Plata and graduated from the Freestate Challenge Academy at Aberdeen Proving Ground - was deployed to Iraq.
He'd been patrolling the streets of Baghdad for six months when he stepped on a roadside land mine. The blast blew off his right arm and cost him both legs.
"It wasn't like in the movies, with a huge exploding sound," Battle, 24, said in an interview this week. "It was more like a 'splat,' like something hitting the surface of water.
"I looked at my arm and saw this meat hanging there. I thought, 'You can't be serious.' "
He spent six months in a coma and didn't wake up until he was at Walter Reed, where he has been undergoing intensive daily physical therapy.
"It's a new phase of your life," Battle said earlier this week, displaying the quiet, matter-of-fact attitude that has impressed staff. "You just cope."
The main person who helped him do so was Lakeisa, a Georgia native Battle met while stationed at Fort Stewart and married three years ago.
She contacted Homes for Our Troops in early 2008, when her husband was still unconscious.
"We're desperate for a place to live," she told a newspaper at the time, saying they had no permanent home for a large family. "We're so grateful for this opportunity."
Representatives of the nonprofit interviewed the Battles extensively to determine their financial need. They also asked, as they always do, where the Battles wanted to live (Maryland, to be close to Walter Reed), showed them homes in the region, and acquired the 1.5-acre parcel on which to build.
In their contract with Homes for Our Troops, the family agreed, among other conditions, not to falsify or "intentionally omit information" that could be used to determine eligibility.
Arrisbrook Builders, an Ellicott City-based company founded by Spencer Padgett and Aaron Drummond, ex-Marines who graduated from the Naval Academy, became general contractors for the project, pitching in more than $70,000 worth of labor and time.
Homes for Our Troops donates up to 40 percent of the costs for each specially designed home, organizing volunteer efforts to provide the rest.
Drummond, who called the project "a great way for us to give back to those who sacrifice so much," said he put the word out, and "people came out of the woodwork to help." Metalcon, a metal consortium in Massachusetts, gave a $100,000 zinc roof. Chesapeake Plumbers of Annapolis, Family Professional Painting of Denton, and L&L; Flooring gave labor and materials, as did other local craftsmen.
Special amenities in the 2,400-square foot house include low-rise cabinets, a harness attached to a ceiling track that allows wheelchair-free movement, and a total absence of thresholds between rooms.
Construction began last October, which is when the Battles - using a $100,000 compensatory payment from the Army - bought not one but two houses in Fayetteville, according to records on file with Clayton County, Ga.
The Patriot Guard Riders, a Georgia-based nonprofit, contributed the labor to make one of the homes wheelchair-accessible.
Gonsalves said a Google alert brought that project to his attention several weeks ago, but Lakeisa Battle told him the home was owned by a cousin, and that the upgrades were done to let Battle visit.
"That's honestly the last thought I gave it," he said.
This week, he said, he learned her story wasn't true.
A Georgia TV reporter called to tell him the Battles are to be feted at a ceremony in Fayetteville this Saturday.
While covering that event, the reporter learned of the Pasadena project, called Gonsalves and faxed him a copy of the deed to one of the homes.
Reached by phone yesterday, Lakeisa Battle admitted owning the Georgia houses, but she said the family didn't think her contract with Homes for Our Troops required them to disclose investment properties. Records show the foreclosed homes were purchased for a combined $48,950.
"We don't know what we're going to do now," she said through sobs.
David Battle declined comment.
Gonsalves said his next step would be to find another disabled veteran to move in. The waiting list for housing is long, he said, with many facing injuries more severe than Battle's. Some have no homes at all, he said.
At the house on Long Hill Road yesterday, Padgett, Drummond and other volunteers kept a brave face, even hoisting the flag out front as they'd planned to do for the Battles.
"I don't know if they realize how many people they've disappointed," said Claire Kilcoyne of Metalcon, who came from New England with her 13-year-old son, Brendan, for the ceremony.
Padgett said the news hurt, but he's proud of the work Arrisbrook did and of the way a community of builders rallied, even during a downturn that has caused many to lay off workers of their own.
Battle "lost more in Iraq than any number of houses can give back," Padgett said. "The good news is, a wonderful home is ready for another vet in great need.
"Sergeant Battle is deserving, but he's not the most deserving. I'm sure we'll find that person soon."