Md. town mourns three killed in fire

Keedysville in Washington County remembers good friends, `good kids'

December 13, 2005|By GREG BARRETT AND STEPHANIE DESMON | GREG BARRETT AND STEPHANIE DESMON,SUN REPORTERS

KEEDYSVILLE -- A half-dozen teenage boys, known around these parts for their skateboarding and tight friendships, spent two full days sledding and snowboarding over the rolling hills here before bunking down Saturday night. They planned to wake up Sunday and return to the snow in this rural Western Maryland town.

But about 5:15 a.m. Sunday, fire tore through a second-floor bedroom of the old stone house where they were sleeping - and killed three of them. School officials said the dead are Mike Abell, Jon Barnes and Brian Daigle, all about 17. Two pals, Max Hope, 17, and Logan Langlais, 15, escaped.

Now Keedysville and nearby Boonsboro High School are in mourning. Yesterday, yellow police tape circled the Hope family's home, where the fire had burned so hot so quickly. White roses sat in front of two of the teens' school lockers.

Tears weren't hard to find.

"This makes it all different," said Cody Poffenberger, a Boonsboro High senior. "Senior year won't be the same."

Investigators said they had not officially identified the teens' bodies. In one case, they were awaiting dental records from Texas. They have no official cause of the deaths - or of the blaze, said Deputy State Fire Marshal Joseph G. Zurolo Jr. One of the surviving teenagers has told others that he fears one of his friends fell asleep smoking a cigarette.

Sitting in a small coffee shop yesterday near the high school, Logan Langlais' mother, Dawn Lee, wept with grief - and relief.

"I feel guilty for being glad that my son survived," she said, speaking softly. "I've got one of the ones who lived and I don't even know the other parents. What do you say to them?"

Logan told her that he and the other boys had stayed up late in Max's bedroom playing video games and Scrabble, then dozed off after midnight. He said he and Max awoke in a dense cloud of smoke and dashed out of the room because they could not breathe.

"They just hoped that the others were already out," Lee said.

Authorities said all five teens were asleep in the same bedroom where the fire started.

"They tried to rouse the other young gentlemen, but I assume the smoke and the heat got too intense," Zurolo said. "They basically had to flee for their lives."

Autopsies awaited

Zurolo said he hopes to learn why the three who perished couldn't get out. Often, he said, young children are the ones who can't escape fires. "We're hoping the autopsy reveals some other information," he said.

The blaze caused an estimated $100,000 damage to the house of Maxwell B. Hope Jr., Max's father, who escaped the fire. The stone house was built in 1831, and during the Civil War, the house - like others in Keedysville - served as a field hospital because of its proximity to the battlefield at Antietam, said Mayor Lee Brandenburg.

Brandenburg, who has been mayor for about a decade and has lived here since 1952, said he has never seen this kind of suffering in his town of 674 residents. "It's just a shocking thing to happen this time of year," he said.

Mike Abell, a budding artist, and Jon Barnes, the group's best skateboarder, were both seniors at Boonsboro High. Brian Daigle had graduated early and was a freshman at Frostburg State University.

`Planned to go pro'

"Jon had planned to go pro; they were all obsessed with skateboarding," said Boonsboro High sophomore Megan Lantz, who stood teary-eyed on the school's parking lot yesterday.

The five teens often ran in a pack and took turns staying at each other's houses, friends and relatives said. They spent much of Friday evening at Logan's house, where they played Playstation 2. On Saturday, they retreated to Max's house, which sits back off narrow, winding Mount Hebron Road.

Sobbing heard

At Boonsboro High yesterday, the broad halls were so quiet that Principal Martin R. Green said he could hear the sobbing of students from his office. When Max Hope showed up to talk briefly with a school counselor, Green could smell smoke from the fire.

He draped an arm over Max's shoulder and said softly, "I wish there was something I could do to make this better."

"You can't, Mr. Green. It's just life," Green recalled Max saying.

Green struggled to describe the group, which he said often skateboarded on the school's parking lot. "They were good, quiet kids. Average high school kids. Not All-Americans at sports and not headed to Harvard or Yale, but they were bright kids. Good kids."

Ten counselors with the Washington County public schools crisis team worked yesterday at the school, which has 1,000 students. Teacher Stephanie Shingleton, who had Mike and Jon for second-period English, placed red roses on their desks.

Journal writing

Shingleton said she did not bother to open the textbooks. Instead, she opened the class for discussion and suggested the students write about their feelings in a journal. Several did, and even more penned their farewells on letters taped to school lockers, on scrolls of paper rolled out in the cafeteria and in a makeshift hallway memorial.

"Wherever you are, I pray it's someplace nice," one note read.

"Mike, you're my best friend," another read. "It's sad to know I will never laugh as hard again as I did with you."

greg.barrett@baltsun.com stephanie.desmon@baltsun.com

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