LAWRENCE (CBS) – “It will just be nice, I guess, to not have to see this anymore,” said Veronica Soto while staring at what was left of her Lawrence home.
Sixty Jefferson Street is the address of the gaping hole in their hearts. The dark blue house with the white shutters was Veronica and Ivan Soto’s pride and joy. It was destroyed on September 13 in the Merrimack Valley gas explosions.
“We worked so hard to acquire that home,” explained Ivan. “Having to accept that it was probably going to be no more, that was really, really tough.”
Thankfully, their teenaged daughters were not hurt, but they lost every picture, every keepsake. Their two cats, Milo and Simba, were killed. “Those were our boys. Some people may not understand that, but they were part of the family,” said Ivan.
These days the Sotos are staying in an apartment. They adopted a cat, grasping perhaps at something that feels familiar, normal. When asked what life is like right now for the family, Veronica responded, “It is overwhelming, very.”
There is so much to document for insurance. Every receipt is now filed away for things like clothing, gas, and medical expenses for therapy. Keeping up is chaotic, but nothing can match the chaos of the day their lives changed.
Ivan is a Lawrence Police Officer and was at work when the explosions rocked Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.” The first home Ivan responded to was on Chickering Road. This is where Leonel Rondon lost his life when a chimney fell on top of his SUV. “We ran over to the car and we saw the chimney and we saw the victim. We all just jumped on top of the car and just tried moving the chimney. We just couldn’t move it.”
After evacuating everyone on that street, Ivan called his wife at work, who called to check on their daughter at home.
“Everything just happened while I was on the phone with her,” recalled Veronica. “Everything just happened. There was the boom.”
There was smoke. There was fire. Soon there was nothing.
“When I saw our house, I’m like, no way this is real,” Veronica said.
Ivan rushed home, saw his house, saw his family, and did something stunning. “I just went back to work. I know my family is okay already so, help other families. That’s the whole point of being a police officer and just helping the community.”
On Jefferson Street, the rebuilding process is now underway.
WATCH: Veronica Soto’s Diary Of Demolition
“They’re saying they can build between 4-5 months,” said Veronica. That time-frame does not account for what can be a lengthy permitting process or New England winter weather.
The new home will begin a new chapter for the Sotos, but all the couple can think about is the young man who lost his life. “I cannot imagine what his mother is feeling. I can’t. From one mother to another, our issues pale in comparison to hers — to that family.”
There is sadness and a little bit of anger.
“This really, this shouldn’t have happened. It shouldn’t have happened. It should not have happened,” Veronica repeated.
Veronica and Ivan have accepted they won’t be home for the holidays. “It is what it is for me this year,” Veronica stated plainly. But that acceptance hasn’t completely erased the sadness of their new reality.
The Sotos also recognize all they have to be grateful for. Every day they see the motto “Beyond Blessed” written on the brand new pillow they bought for their brand new couch. Veronica smiled broadly when asked if she picked it out.
“I sure did. I sure did. Because we are. We absolutely are beyond blessed. We have a roof over our head. There are people in our community that don’t have that, still. Best four bucks I ever spent.”
The Sotos say no words can express how grateful they are for the community support they have received, including a Go Fund Me page that has raised almost $70,000.
We are going to continue to check in with the Soto family as they rebuild and get back on their feet.