LAWRENCE (CBS) — The Merrimack Valley communities marked a brutal year of recovery from the gas disaster by holding a memorial service and dedicating a greenway to Leonel Rondon, who lost his life as a result of the explosions. Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera spoke along with Gov. Charlie Baker, Sen. Ed Markey, and Congresswoman Lori Trahan.
“This is what we have to do because we want to make sure people don’t ever forget…that a life was lost, a beautiful life was lost. Like when we do this for soldiers, we want people to walk by and see the sign and say ‘I wonder who that was,'” said Rivera. “And we hope when they come by that sign they are going to say ‘I remember that kid.'”
A sign marking Leonel A. Rondon Square was placed on Chestnut Street Friday, not far from where he lived with his family.
“This is unnecessary. This should be the last time. This should be the last time that we name a street or corner or anything after a child who lost his life for some uselessness. For recklessness,” said Rivera.
The mayor took time to thank many first responders and politicians who worked to help victims and get answers from utility company Columbia Gas. He mentioned the significance of Sen. Ed Markey bringing the Senate hearing to Lawrence as opposed to holding it in Washington D.C.
“This accident was not inevitable, it was preventable. Leonel’s death never had to have occurred,” said Markey.
He, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Trahan introduced the Leonel Rondon Safety Pipeline Act in April. It focuses on saving lives and holding utility companies like Columbia Gas responsible. One of the major takeaways is the punishment would go up 100 fold.
“So to the family of Leonel, we express our greatest sympathy, but know, that in his name, in your family’s name, there will be hundreds, thousands, of lives which are saved in the future because of the sacrifice which you have made,” Markey said.
Baker also mentioned the importance of keeping Leonel’s spirit alive through regulation. “He will be for us, and I believe for many others, a constant reminder of the vigilance that’s required of government and the entities we regulate and oversee.”
The governor acknowledged how Leonel’s death displayed life’s fragility. “It spoke to the fact that it’s critically important for those of us in public life recognize and appreciate that everyone has a story. Leonel had a story. That plaque right there is going to speak to his story forever. His story was a life lost too young through no fault of his own because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a terrible tragedy occurred.”
“It’s important that his life matters. That his time here mattered,” Baker added.
Leonel’s sister, Lucianny said, “We feel this emptiness, this sadness, this pain that is killing us inside.”
“I want people to ask who he was,” said Leonel’s cousin Arianna Munoz. “Why was he important and to recognize his death was an injustice.”
Lawyer Doug Sheff also spoke on behalf of the Rondon family. “When the Rondon’s see this beautiful sign, they will see Leonel. They will see his smile, they will hear his music, and they will feel his love. Nothing can replace him. He was the heart and soul of this fine and decent family,” he said.
Dozens of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed in the outbreak of fires from the overpressurization of gas pipelines owned by Columbia Gas.
For Lawrence resident Leonard Gaudette, the last year has been a road of uncertainty. He was displaced for two months and forced to live in a temporary trailer last winter. “The first week the temperature in the house fell to 23 degrees. There was no way we could stay here,” said Gaudette.
He has a new boiler and stove but now he wants to know if he’ll have to be reinspected for abandoned gas lines not properly capped and worried it could all happen again.
“It’s been on my mind almost every day since it happened because you have no control,” he said.