A powerful explosion ripped apart a van near a suburban shopping center Monday evening, killing five people and shaking homes “like an earthquake.”
Federal and Baltimore County bomb experts rushed to the site behind the Middlesex Shopping Center in Essex, where four of the victims - two children, a man and a woman - were killed, with body parts scattered with bits of the vehicle as far as 300 yards away. Their identities were not immediately known.
Another victim, described as a girl about 9 years old, died at a hospital less than two hours later.
“It looked like a war zone,” said Norman Rush, a barber who works at the shopping center. “It looked like they had walked on a land mine.”
The blast, from an explosive device, occurred shortly after 6 p.m. and left a scene of bloody devastation, according to police officials and eyewitnesses.
“It was like an earthquake,” said Albert Kellner, 35, who lives fewer than 100 yards from blast. “It vibrated the house and me. It knocked me back.
“It was incredible. I never smelled anything like that, and I never saw anything like that in my life, and I never want to see it again.”
Bomb experts from the Baltimore County police and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms joined scores of local and state police and fire officers at the site of the explosion. The scene was cordoned off as they began the task of identifying evidence and determining the source of the explosion - initially thought to be fireworks. Police ruled out a gas tank explosion.
Capt. Brian Uppercue, a county police spokesman, said the blast occurred in an alley behind the shopping center, where trash bins are kept. Police believed that all the victims were inside the vehicle, thought to have been a blue or white minivan with Maryland license plates.
All that remained of the vehicle was a charred, unrecognizable shell.
“The whole ground shook, and the lights went out,” said Tina Logue, 26, a stylist at a hair salon in the shopping center.
John Wallace, who lives nearby, ran to the site when he heard the explosion and said he found the van engulfed in flames.
“It sounded like a loud boom,” said Matt Fields, 17, who also lives nearby. “I just saw body parts laying all over the scene.”