LAWRENCE — About 100 people gathered here Friday for the dedication of a city square named for Leonel A. Rondon, the teenager killed in the devastating Merrimack Valley gas explosions last year.
“We are very appreciative of the community,” said Rondon’s older sister, Lucianny Rondon, following the ceremony at Jackson and Chestnut streets, an intersection now dubbed Leonel A. Rondon Square. “It’s not only our pain, but it’s the community’s as well.”
Lucianny Rondon said her brother, 18 at the time of his death, had a joyful spirit throughout his short life. Her brother was “full of life” and “always kind to others,” frequently asking her and their mother to pull over during car rides when he spotted a homeless person on the street, so they could offer money.
“He would have done amazing things,” she said. “He would have worked in human rights, human services, because he always wanted to help everyone.”
And in death, officials — including Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Dan Rivera, Senator Ed Markey, and Representative Lori Trahan — said Friday, he’s done exactly that.
Rondon’s tragic passing prompted Markey and Trahan to file a pipeline safety bill that’s moving through Congress and, if passed, will beef up safety precautions.
The bill, Markey said, will save thousands of lives.
“This accident was not inevitable,” Markey said. “It was preventable. Leonel’s death never had to happen.”
Said Trahan, “Leonel’s life is always going to have meaning.”
Leonel’s brother, Leonardi, pulled back a black cloth to unveil a plaque in his late sibling’s honor. Lucianny Rondon kissed her hand and placed it on the memorial.
A number of Leonel Rondon’s friends attended the ceremony wearing T-shirts with his photo printed on them, including Alexus Mannion, 18.
“It shows he is not going to be forgotten,” Mannion said of the dedication.
Rondon, a student at Phoenix Charter Academy in Lawrence, died Sept. 13, 2018, after a chimney from a house that exploded toppled onto the vehicle he was sitting in at a friend’s house on Chickering Road.
Two dozen people were injured in the blasts, five homes exploded, and 125 structures were damaged by fire. Thousands of residents across Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover went without heat or hot water for weeks during the onset of cold weather, forced to live in hotels and portable trailers as crews worked to repair the gas system. Some braved the dropping temperatures, cooking on hot plates and warming parts of their homes with space heaters.
“We hope this will be the last time we have to put up a sign for something like this,” Rivera said during Friday’s ceremony.
His comments were echoed by Baker, who said Rondon’s death was a “terrible twist of fate.”
“His story was [of] a life lost too young, through no fault of his own,” Baker said.