MINNEAPOLIS - A community is grieving the loss of two beloved employees at Minnehaha Academy, after both were pulled from the rubble following an explosion and building collapse on Wednesday.
Ruth Berg, 47, a longtime receptionist, and John Carlson, an 82-year-old custodian, were killed in the incident. Their bodies were located hours apart in roughly the same area, buried in the rubble and debris.
Mark Burrington, Berg's fiancé, spoke to MPR by phone and said they were planning to get married in September -- in fact, the couple's wedding invitations had just arrived the day before the blast.
He said she was supposed to be fitted for her wedding dress on Thursday.
Burrington told MPR he talked to Berg earlier on Wednesday and they discussed plans to have lunch together. Then he heard the blast at the school, just down the street from his home, and rushed to the scene.
He said when he got there, he ran into the crumbling building to search for her.
"The first hallway I hit, there was a lot of like debris and stuff, and it literally looked like a bomb went off," he told MPR. "You turn the corner to go down to the office where she sits ... As soon as I turned the corner, you could see the daylight, and I knew, you know, there's something wrong."
Minnehaha Academy confirmed in a Facebook post that the first reported fatality of the explosion was Berg. She worked at the school for 17 years.
"As our receptionist, she welcomed everyone with a smile and was always willing to go the extra mile to help our students, families, and staff," the post reads. "She will be greatly missed. Please keep Ruth's family, and our school community, in your prayers."
She was described by colleagues and students as a sweet, caring and kind person.
Just before 10 p.m. Wednesday, Fire Chief John Fruetel confirmed that the body of the last missing man had been pulled from the rubble, bringing the death toll in the incident to two.
The school had identified the man earlier as Carlson. He was pulled from the debris around 8 p.m. Many described him as a grandfather to students and staff.
Carlson graduated from Minnehaha Academy in 1953, went to preschool at the building and sent his own children there. He then returned to the school to work as a custodian during his retirement.
His wife Barbara Carlson told MPR her husband wasn't scheduled to work the day of the explosion until 3 p.m. but he went in early because she had a doctor's appointment later that day.
He was described by the school as their biggest cheerleader.
"He's probably the nicest man in the entire world," said junior student Emma St. Andrew.
St. Andrew and others spoke of the generosity Carlson was known for – with one favorite story in particular.
"I work at the Dairy Queen on Lake Street and he walks there like once a month and gets like 10 boxes of Dilly Bars," St. Andrew said. "And he stores them in the janitor's closet and will give them to you throughout the day."
Family members reached out to KARE 11 while the search was still in progress, hoping for any news about Carlson's whereabouts.
Later, his daughter wrote on Facebook, "I was there to see the ambulance leave the site." Adding, "It was a long drive home."
"This is a deep, deep loss for us," said Sara Jacobson, Minnehaha Academy spokesperson. "Our hearts are broken tonight. This is a tragic, tragic loss for our school."
As many as nine others were injured in the blast Wednesday morning, including Bryan Duffey. According to the school's website, Duffey is the assistant boys' soccer coach. He remains in critical condition at HCMC.
A prayer service was held at 7 p.m. at Minnehaha Academy's Lower and Middle School, located at 4200 West River Parkway in Minneapolis.