The last time Shanika Brown spoke to her 8-year-old son Troy Douglas was when she dropped him off at William Paca Elementary School in east Baltimore on the morning of Feb. 19.
“‘I’ll see you later. Have a good day at school, okay?’” she recalled telling the third grader. “He looked at me and said ‘Alright.’”
Later that afternoon, Douglas, who loved to play football and basketball and was known as “Lil Troy,” was walking home from school when he passed a house in the 400 block of N. Lakewood Ave. Inside, an uncontrolled fire triggered a possible explosion, collapsing the building. Douglas’ small body was later found under the rubble.
In an interview two days after his death, Brown was able to speak without crying, though the unsteadiness in her voice betrayed her attempt at calm. She said she had a mother’s intuition that something wasn’t right when her son didn’t return home at the typical time.
“There was something in me,” Brown said. “I felt that my son was hurt when my oldest son told me Troy was late coming home from school.”
Brown, 32, said her feeling of uneasiness grew when she learned that a house had exploded in the same block where Douglas walked from school.
She went to the scene, just blocks from her home, and spoke to a police officer on the scene to see if there were any children hurt.
“The officer said there was one little boy who ran back to the school, but no one else,” she said. “I then told him my son hadn’t made it home from school yet and [that] is the way my son comes home from school.”
As the officer took her information, her feeling of unease grew. She ran to her son’s elementary school to see if anyone had seen him, but no one had. That’s when she said she started feeling numb.
“I went back to the scene and just stood there,” she recalled. Her cousin, who was also at the scene of the explosion, told her when rescuers pulled a little boy’s body out of the rubble.
“I can’t describe that feeling when they told me it was my son,” Brown said. “I just fell to my knees.”
According to Ian Brennan, a spokesman for the Baltimore City Fire Department, units were dispatched to the 400 block of N. Lakewood Ave. at 3:02 p.m., just minutes after school was dismissed.
“We can’t confirm if, in fact, this was an explosion, but the house collapsed,” he told the AFRO.
Brennan said two unidentified adults were transported to Bayview Burn Center and a child was transported to Johns Hopkins Hospital. All three were inside the house when the incident occurred, Brennan said.
After the blaze was controlled, firefighters combed through the rubble, picking up bricks one by one. At 4:20 p.m., Douglas’ body was found.
“This is an unbelievable tragedy,” Brennan said. “This is sad for everyone involved, especially the family. This was such a terrible loss of life.”
In a statement, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said her “heart aches” for the loss of Douglas. She said she visited his family and assured them that the fire department and other city agencies, along with Baltimore Gas and Electric, are conducting a thorough investigation of the incident.
“As [the] mother to an elementary school-aged child, it makes it even more difficult to know that Troy Douglas was doing as most children do each day—walking home from school,” the mayor said.
“My sincere prayers are with Troy’s family and loved ones, the students and staff of William Paca Elementary school, and the entire McElderry Park community during this incredibly difficult time,” she said.
Meanwhile, Brown is preparing to bury her child. She said he was smart, funny, spunky and full of life, and believed her son would have been hurrying home from school that day because he was supposed to go to his cousin’s birthday party. She said her family is doing as well as possible under the circumstances.
A funeral service for Douglas is scheduled for Feb. 25 at the Church of Dynamic Deliverance at 630 N. Linwood Avenue in Baltimore.
“He loved to play sports—football and basketball—but loved basketball more because he didn’t like to be hit so much in football,” Brown said. “He…got good grades and never gave me any problems.”
Channel 11 News is reporting that a Memorial Fund for Troy Douglas has been established.