GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Editor's Note: The story below contains mention of death by suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.
An explosion and fire at a Gaithersburg condo building Wednesday that injured 14 people is now being linked to the death by suicide of a man who had only lived in the building for a few months.
Maryland's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner identified a body pulled from the explosion rubble as 36-year-old Juan Pablo Marshall Quizon. The manner of death was ruled a suicide, and the cause of death determined to be smoke inhalation and burns.
"There is further witness statements and evidence that also support the ruling of suicide," Police Chief Marcus Jones said at a press conference Friday.
Jones also said they found a note during their investigation, although the chief declined to call it a suicide note, nor share where it was found.
"With all of the information we have gathered, to include most importantly witness statements in regards to Mr. Quizon's mental wellbeing, this is why it draws us to this conclusion," Jones said.
Quizon's mother reportedly called 911 Wednesday morning after the explosion to report her son missing, and said he was despondent and suicidal after losing his job as a scrap metal worker. She was unaware he had purchased his condo, which he had bought in August.
"At this moment in time, we have no information to believe that Mr. Quizon intended for other individuals to be injured or harmed in this particular incident," Jones said. "But I will state, as I noted yesterday of this being a probable criminal investigation, it is a criminal investigation, for the fact that if Mr. Quizon was still living, he would have been criminally culpable in this investigation."
Investigators are still working to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to determine exactly what happened. They have collected the gas stove from Quizon's apartment and are hoping to be able to figure out if the knobs were turned on, sending gas billowing into the building. A dog trained to sniff out accelerant did alert on several items found in the unit.
"Thanks be to God, we’re good," said Marlin Rosa and Jorge Cruz, who were among the dozen or so families allowed briefly back into their apartments at Potomac Oaks Condominiums to grab what they could.
Rosa and Cruz had 10 minutes to grab clothes, shoes and documents for themselves and their two sons.
A worker in a big excavator spent the day dissecting the rubble like a surgeon with a forceps and scalpel. Police and fire investigators watched from above. At one point, they looked closely at what appeared to be a piece of fabric of some kind, but it’s unclear why.
Neighbors Robin Perini and Michael Ali spent long minutes watching the work.
“I was in that room -- that’s my room," Perina said, motioning toward her bedroom.
The fire was less than 100 yards away. She felt the explosion and so did her two toddlers, who both burst into tears.
“First they say gas leak, now somebody did it on purpose -- I don’t know what to think,” Perini said her voice crackling with emotion.
“There’s little kids that go to school every day," Ali added. "It's said.
All 10 of the other victims who were taken to the hospital, including four children, have been released from the hospital. So far, $62,000 has been raised to help support the nearly 50 people whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the blast.
This is the second apartment explosion this year in Montgomery County. Back in March, 14 people were injured in a large explosion and fire at the Friendly Garden Apartments in Silver Spring.
Back in 2016, the Flower Branch Apartments were rocked by a natural gas explosion that killed seven people and injured nearly 70 others.