A family struggles with the death of one fire victim and the uncertain future of another. Sixty-six-year-old Merlin Gardner died Wednesday while his nephew, 42-year-old Joseph Mangiamelli, is fighting for his life after being severely burned in Tuesday’s explosion and fire.
Candace Gardner, Merlin’s daughter, and her family recovered what was left of her father’s possessions from the burned home at 37th and Fowler. They only found a few, now precious items. “It was very hard. I had to stay strong, there's things down there I was looking for and couldn't find. It's a mess, it’s ridiculous, everything is covered, everything."
The past few days have been a roller coaster for Candace, first hearing about the fire, then learning her father and cousin were two of the victims and then holding onto hope that her dad was okay.
“When they originally told me he was at Creighton, they were treating him and releasing him, so I drive all the way down to Creighton. It wasn't him, he wasn't there. He was one of the ones they couldn't identify. I didn't get to see him right away in that time, hoping and praying, please don't take my dad."
All Candace has now are memories. She still hasn’t heard anything official as to what caused the blast and fire. “I just know now I don't have a father and I have a cousin up there fighting for his life."
Mangiamelli remains in critical condition. Another victim, Billy Boyer, is also hospitalized in critical condition.