OXON HILL, Maryland – A supermarket bakery employee, her husband and three others were found dead inside a suburban Washington home Tuesday of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, rattling a close-knit community of Salvadoran immigrant churchgoers who wept, hugged and comforted each other outside.
Fire officials blamed the deaths on a broken exhaust pipe that pumped carbon monoxide back into the home.
Two of the dead were discovered by a relative who went to the home Tuesday morning, concerned for his family’s welfare. The other three were found soon after by firefighters who measured levels of carbon monoxide so high as to lead to death within mere hours, said Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County fire department.
The victims, all adults who lived in the one-story brick home in the suburb of Oxon Hill, are a husband, a wife, her sister and two boarders. Neighbors had last seen them Monday evening. At least some of them were originally from El Salvador.
Officials identified the victims as: Oscar Chavez, 57; his wife, Sonia Chavez, 54; her sister, Nora N. Leiva, 57, of Chicago; Francisco Javier Gomez Segovia of Fairfax, Virginia, 33, and Nelson Enrique Landaverde Alas, 44.
Authorities said the investigation was centering on a broken exhaust pipe that showed signs of significant wear and tear, including holes that appeared capable of letting unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide seep back into the home instead of ventilating it back into the atmosphere.
Members of the victims’ close-knit Spanish-speaking Pentecostal church embraced each other and Chavez’s son as they stood behind yellow police tape. One woman, who would not give her name, said she took comfort that the victims were with God.
Jose Rosales, who is from El Salvador and who was among those at the scene Tuesday, said several of the victims were active in the same church. Oscar Chavez was a church leader, Sonia Chavez worked with children, and a third victim, Nelson Landaverde, performed music for the congregation.
“I didn’t believe it. I said, ‘I have to see,'” Rosales said of a phone call telling him about the deaths. “I had no explanation of how this all happened. I came here to find out.”
Ramon Nunoz, who lives across the street, said the married couple was originally from El Salvador and the man worked in construction.
“They were good people. I’m very sad that this happened,” Nunoz said.