18-year-old killed in Lawrence gas explosion was ‘outgoing, light-hearted’

LAWRENCE, MASS. (WHDH) - An 18-year-old Lawrence resident who was celebrating his recently obtained driver’s license with two friends was killed Thursday after a house explosion sent a chimney crashing down onto his vehicle, officials said.

Leonel Rondon was pulled from the crumpled car in a driveway on Chickering Road and rushed to Lawrence General Hospital before being taken to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he was pronounced dead Thursday night, according to a spokeswoman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan D. Blodgett’s Office.

Family members say Rondon, who was set to graduate from high school this year, had just gotten his driver’s license and was celebrating the milestone with two friends when a massive explosion caused the chimney on a nearby home to collapse onto his vehicle. He and a couple others were getting ready to head to a friend’s house for a home-cooked meal.

His two friends, whose names were not released, were badly injured and remain hospitalized at Lawrence General Hospital.

Neighbors say the explosion took them all by surprise.

“I heard a big noise, boom!” said Johnny Tran, who lives across the street. “I ran out, I saw one lady yell for help, I said, ‘Hey guys, call 911!'”

Family members say they are hoping Rondon’s friends pull through and described their lost loved one as, “an amazing young man.”

Luis Medina, a friend of the family, said the news is still hitting them today.

“To see his mother broken down like that, it’s sad,” Medina said. “It broke me. It could have broken anyone.”

Former Mayor William Lantigua visited the family to pay his respects. He said he knew Rondon, and saw how invested he was in his future.

“There’s a police officer right there, he was his mentor. And things were going quite well. It’s such bad timing,” Lantigua said

Rondon’s family says they want him to be remembered as a respectful young man, close to his family, and excited for life. They say they’re grateful for the community that has come together for them in their time of grief.

“This family just needs to mourn their son,” Medina said. “It’s sad. That’s all I can say.”

Lawrence Public Schools said in a statement that they are “deeply saddened by the loss of one of its members, 18-year-old Leonel Rondon.”

“Staff and students knew him as an outgoing, light-hearted, hands-on learner who particularly loved science and excelled in biology and math,” the statement continued.

Rondon had just begun his junior year at Phoenix Charter Lawrence Academy.

“He will be greatly missed both in school and at home, and his family, friends and loved ones are in the thoughts of everyone throughout the Phoenix network and Lawrence Public Schools,” the academy said in a statement.

Grief counseling will be available at the schools in the coming days.

As many as 25 people have been treated for a variety of injuries as a result of the gas disaster.

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