Terry Bagley Sr. was prepping food for Thanksgiving when he realized he needed pasta for the macaroni and cheese.
On his way to the store Tuesday afternoon, everything changed in an instant — when a cry for help and a split-second act of heroism left Bagley fighting for his life.
While the 70-year-old Marine veteran was walking through Pigtown, an explosion rocked the area late Tuesday afternoon, leaving a mother and daughter trapped inside their burning, partially collapsed Bayard Street home across from Carroll Park.
Bagley entered the building and tried to save them, but another part of the house collapsed on him. He remained hospitalized in critical condition Thursday, unable to celebrate the holiday he started cooking for days earlier. Officials said the other two victims had been upgraded to stable condition on Wednesday.
The cause of the explosion is still under investigation, fire spokesperson Chief Roman Clark said. Rattled neighbors told reporters at the scene that Baltimore Gas and Electric had been doing work in the area recently. BGE workers were also present at the explosion site the following day.
Bagley’s daughter, Eris Bagley, said he was placed in a medically induced coma because his injuries are extensive, including a broken pelvis, femur and hand. She said doctors delayed performing surgery Wednesday in hope that his heartbeat would become stronger; they planned to complete the surgery Thursday.
“He lived through polio outbreaks. He survived toxic water at Camp Lejeune. He served in Vietnam, one of the most horrific wars known to America,” Eris Bagley said. “I’m not used to seeing my dad weak.”
But she said his pain is severe; she can see tears in his eyes. She spent hours with him at Shock Trauma on Wednesday, telling him his family was proud of him and everything would be OK.
“We are just praying for the surgeon’s hand and praying that my father is so stubborn he doesn’t want to leave us yet,” she said.
She said family members are worried about how they’ll afford expensive medical bills if insurance doesn’t cover everything.
Eris Bagley lives in Baltimore, along with her parents and brother. Their sister, who followed in her father’s footsteps and joined the Army, was catching a flight home from South Korea on Wednesday.
They all planned to spend Thanksgiving at the hospital, taking turns by Terry Bagley Sr.’s bedside.
Eris Bagley said she learned about the blast because her daughter was released early from school at Southwest Baltimore Charter. But several hours passed before she realized her father was one of the casualties.
She said she received a call from Baltimore Police around 5:30 p.m., telling her the news. She quickly called her mom, who had been wondering where her husband was all afternoon. Terry Bagley was scheduled to work that evening at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, where he performed housekeeping duties.
Bagley grew up in Winnsboro, South Carolina, where he met his future wife. After high school, he joined the Marines, and his twin brother joined the Air Force.
“They come from humble beginnings and wanted to broaden their horizons,” Eris Bagley said.
Bagley later followed his wife to Baltimore, where she attended grad school for social work. They settled down and raised three children. Later, after Eris Bagley’s daughter was born, they became doting grandparents.
Eris Bagley said her father spent decades working as a bricklayer after receiving an honorable discharge from the military. She was shocked but not surprised to hear he risked his life to save two strangers.
“I believe that is the Marine in him,” she said. “I don’t know too many people who would do something like that.”
In a tweet posted Wednesday afternoon, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan commended Bagley’s actions.
“We are all pulling for this hero,” he wrote.
Along Bayard Street on Wednesday, BGE workers were helping the fire department investigate and canvassing the neighborhood “to ensure the safe and reliable operation of our gas infrastructure,” according to company officials. The company temporarily cut gas and electric service to affected houses Tuesday night.
The Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management assisted some affected households, and the families were moved into hotel rooms, Clark said Thursday.
Jake Booher, who owns the rowhouse next to where the explosion occurred, said he was driving to Boston to visit family Tuesday when his home alarm system went off. Watching live surveillance footage on his phone, he saw firefighters entering the building and realized something major had happened.
Booher said he’s been in touch with his neighbor, whose wife and teenage daughter remain hospitalized with injuries.
“He said they’re doing better, but it’s a slow recovery,” Booher said. “It’s just a lot to deal with.”
Booher said BGE workers had been in the area for weeks replacing gas lines. He said the work caused an unintended interruption to his water service at one point.
“BGE completed upgrades in October to the gas main that services the 1100 block of Bayard Street,” a company spokesperson said Tuesday.
Booher wasn’t looking forward to sorting out insurance payments, legal claims and potential repairs, but in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, his top priority was finding his cat, Banshee, who went missing after firefighters broke windows and caused other damage to the building in their efforts to stop the flames from spreading. He posted on social media and put up flyers asking people to keep an eye out.
On Thanksgiving Day, he opened the basement door and found her waiting at the top of the stairs.
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