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Under Pressure: Inside the Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions

The inside story of death, survival, and the reckless gas company that set the Merrimack Valley on fire.

by Rachel Slade, Boston Magazine

On the afternoon of September 13, 2018, Leonel Rondon’s father picked him up from school and proudly drove him to the Lawrence RMV. An hour later, the lanky 18-year-old with almond-shaped eyes and thick black hair was beaming as he held his driver’s license in his hand. He was one step closer to becoming the responsible man his immigrant parents wanted him to be. Miguel and his wife, Rosaly, had moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic during the 1990s, worked hard, and raised three kids. Today was another milestone, another American rite of passage. With his license, their oldest son could get a job, drive to church events, and shuttle around Rihanny, his sister’s toddler, whom he adored as if she were his own.

On the ride home, Leo spoke with his father in Spanish about the future and what might lay ahead: a new car, a high school degree, and maybe—just maybe—college.

Today, though, it was time to kick back and celebrate. Miguel dropped Leo off at his friends’ place a few blocks down the road in South Lawrence and waved goodbye. At 1,900 square feet, the Figueroas’ home was big by Lawrence standards, with a pool out back that made it a popular hangout spot. A couple of Leo’s buddies lived there with their mother, Omayra, and as soon as Leo pulled up, the entire Figueroa family spilled out of the house to congratulate the new driver.

Leo was eager to get back behind the wheel, so he and the two Figueroa brothers, plus their friend Christian Caraballo, piled into the family’s Toyota RAV4 parked in the driveway. Music from the car’s speakers wafted into the warm afternoon air as Leo gripped the wheel, plotting adventures with his boys. Omayra and her 21-year-old daughter, Shakira, went back inside to start cooking dinner.


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