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Local News

Couple 'devastated' about losing home, cats, photographs in Joliet explosion

State fire marshal spokesman had no information on investigation of incident

Caryn Genens of Joliet was stunned at the text she received 4 p.m. Sunday.

Genens said her brother Randy Hedden of Joliet texted: “My house exploded. It’s nothing but rubble. And Bonnie and I are at the hospital to get checked.”

“At first I thought he was kidding,” Genens said. “And then I went online. It was already on the news.”

Randy, 76 and Bonnie, 71, along with a neighbor, were transported to Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox following the explosion of their house on East Washington Street in unincorporated Joliet.

Bonnie, who's had surgery since the explosion, was still in the intensive care unit as of Wednesday afternoon, Randy's sister Melissa Hultz of Elgin said.

Randy was released Wednesday afternoon, but is still in pain, Hultz said.

"There's something wrong with his back that they haven't found out yet," Hultz said.

Family and friends are raising money for the couple who lost everything in the explosion: their home and its possessions, their "beloved" six cats, and their photographs, keepsakes and “a lifetime of memories,” the GoFundMe page said.

“They’re devastated about the cats,” Genens said. “They’re big pet people. They always had dogs and cats over the years.”

The couple was outside gardening when the house exploded, Genens said. Hultz said Bonnie loves flowers.

“The house just took them with it,” Genens said.

When asked about the status of the investigation of the explosion, Illinois State Fire Marshal spokesman JC Fultz said "at this time, we don't have any further information available."

Kim Nerheim, spokeswoman for Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, did not respond to questions about the investigation Wednesday.

Gary Heiden, who lives two blocks from the home and owns H& R Pump Co., Inc. at 2111 E. Washington St. in Joliet , said a neighbor shared details about the explosion.

Apparently a brick struck a neighbor in the head. Bonnie was blown out of her lawn chair and across the yard, and Randy became pinned against a vehicle by the rubble, Heiden told The Herald-News.

“He was buried in rubble up to the chest,” Genens said.

Genens said both Randy and Bonnie had cuts, bruises and scrapes. Bonnie also had a cut artery in one arm.

“It was not severe,” Genens said. “It was not the main artery. Luckily a neighbor came on the scene … he wrapped the wound and used his belt for a tourniquet and waited with her until the police and paramedics got there.”

Hultz didn't know what hit Bonnie's forearm, but it "scraped off her skin and muscle down to the bone," Hultz said.

"And she has staples and stitches in her head," Hultz said.

The state fire marshal responded and contacted the ATF to assist due to the homeowner mentioning the black powder he stored in the basement, said Kathy Hoffmeyer, spokesperson for the Will County Sheriff’s Office.

Neighbors told deputies they smelled "something like gunpowder" after the explosion, Hoffmeyer said, and other neighbors told of hearing an electrical crackling prior to the blast.

In the aftermath of the explosion, Nicor workers were on the scene to look for gas leaks, Hoffmeyer said.

Genens said she’d heard the black powder was not the source of the explosion. The powder was enclosed and still in its container, she said.

Randy had the powder because he collected antique guns and participated in rendezvous reenactments, Genens said.

“He really got into that,” Genens said.

“Rendezvous” reenactments celebrate the fur trade of the 19th century.

Randy’s Facebook page said he is a “proud member” of the American Mountain Men.

American Mountain Men is an association that researches and studies the history, traditions, lifestyle and tools of the trappers, explorers, and traders known as the Mountain Men, according to the American Mountain Men website.

Hultz said Randy has been a member for about 35 years and is "very cautious" with such things as black powder.

"He's always loved history," Hultz said.

Genens said both Randy and Bonnie loved antiques, too. Hultz said Bonnie has a knack for finding good deals on antiques.

“They were also previously antique dealers,” Genens said. “They had an antique shop down in Wilmington.”

Hultz said Randy and Bonnie were married in 1965 and just celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary in June. She said Randy is "really smart" and "a lot of fun."

"He teases a lot," Hultz said. "Especially his sisters."

Donate to the Randy & Bonnie Hedden relief fund at bit.ly/34emBla.

• Herald-News reporter Felix Sarver contributed to this report

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