A Gloucester County couple married 50 years were killed in their home Saturday in an early-morning explosion that damaged nearby residences in the Newfield neighborhood, propelled debris blocks away, and rattled nerves.
Autopsies on John Paladino, 73, and his wife, Carole, 72, are scheduled for Sunday, the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office said, adding that no foul play is suspected. An investigation by the Prosecutor's Office and the county Fire Marshal's Office continues. The Paladinos, who have children and grandchildren, were home alone at the time of the explosion, authorities said.
"Just good people," Wayne Ingling said of the couple as he stood Saturday morning just down the street from their house on the 300 block of Oakwood Drive, now rubble. "It shakes you up. It's a really bad scene up there."
Ingling, of Vineland, said Carole Paladino was a retired school nurse from the Millville Public Schools. John Paladino had served as president of the local school board and worked part time at the DeMarco-Luisi Funeral Home in Vineland, friends said. Carole Paladino, they said, had been largely housebound in recent years due to illness. Family members could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Neighbors said the Paladinos had a new stove delivered on Friday. Officials did not say if they believe the explosion was related to the installation of that appliance.
"At this time, the causation is still being evaluated," South Jersey Gas spokesperson Marissa Travaline said shortly before 3 p.m. Saturday.
The utility's crews arrived within 20 minutes of the blast and suspended service to 15 homes, Travaline said. Emergency responders included nine fire companies, according to the Prosecutor's Office.
Francesca Mancuso, among the customers whose gas service was temporarily shut off, lives about 50 yards from the Paladino home and recalled waking up to a noise that sounded like thunder. What she saw when she went to the window was terrifying.
"It was a huge ball of fire, a massive ball of fire," said Mancuso, 31. "We heard people screaming 'Help!' and we ran over to see if there was anything we could do. But it was impossible."
Eric Miller, 20, heard and felt the explosion from four blocks away.
"I thought something ran into the house," he said.
Damage in the neighborhood was extensive. A house next to the Paladino property was covered with heavy debris and an RV was knocked on its side. Pink insulation was everywhere, including hanging from an overhead utility line.
A Christmas card believed to be from the Paladino home had fluttered onto a lawn down the street. It was signed, "Your one and only, John."
According to Facebook, the couple had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in October. Carole Paladino's more recent Facebook posts rejoiced over being a grandparent, urged environmental cleanup, and took on President Trump for threatening Social Security.
"They were Newfield natives and their loss will be felt for years to come," said Mayor Donald Sullivan, who worked with John Paladino at the funeral home. "Our funeral home family has suffered a great loss."
The explosion was reported around 6:15 a.m., authorities said. Photos quickly appeared on Twitter showing substantial devastation.
Paul Vidal, 10, was staying next door with his grandmother Marlene Rambone. Her windows were blown in, a wall was leaning, and the "whole kitchen was destroyed," Paul's mother, Audra Manasco, said. Red Cross officials said the family would not be able to stay in the house until it was deemed structurally sound.
"I looked up to him," Paul said of John Paladino. "He was so nice. If you got hurt, he would help you."
Paul and his family had been planning to spend the day at the Paladino backyard pool, now torn apart.
T.J. and Erica Fry live on the next street over. T.J. grew up with the Paladino children, whom he identified as Tony and Sue.
"When I ran over, it was engulfed in flames," he said. "The fire was pretty much at ground level. It was a two-story house and I think it was leveled pretty much instantly."
Late Saturday morning, the Frys gathered up old children's drawings, birthday cards, and sheet music scattered by the explosion to give to the Paladino children.