ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - A mother is grieving after a relatively small Montgomery County fire claimed the life of her adult son.
Smoke and flames were first seen pouring out an apartment window around 12:30 a.m. Thursday in the 5200 block of Crossfield Court, in Rockville's Bethesda Park condominium community.
Firefighters entered a third story unit to find bright flames in the kitchen, and Michael Mercurio, 53, lying unconscious on the floor. Mercurio, who lived alone, later died at an area hospital. An initial autopsy was inconclusive.
"Here I am living, and he's dead," Mercurio's mother, Marge Mercurio said in her Northwest D.C. home. "I can't believe it. I'm in shock. I can't believe this is happening. I mean, I've lost many people in the family, but nothing like this."
A 1978 St. John's College High School graduate, Mercurio earned a bachelors degree in business administration from George Washington University, and later received a master's degree from the University of Maryland. Although currently unemployed, family members say Mercurio was a human resources director for the better part of his adult life.
"He was a loving person and very compassionate," Marge Mercurio added. "He loved people, he wanted to be around them all of the time."
Neighbors say that gregarious spirit led Bethesda Park owners to elect Mercurio as their homeowner's association board president; a position he recently gave up. The 53-year-old also gained notoriety by hosting parties, whether at the community pool during the summertime, or inside his one-bedroom condominium.
"He loved Clue, charades, penny poker... He had an entire closet full of board games. He'd play with his friends every Saturday," longtime friend Caesar Perez remarked.
As the sun rose Thursday, word of Mercurio's ill fate trickled across Bethesda Park's 560 condominiums, a community located roughly one mile northeast of the White Flint Metro station.
"I came to see what all the commotion was, and she told me Mike had died. I was absolutely shocked," resident Angela Ghaman remarked.
“He’s just a great guy,” longtime neighbor Jonathan Gomez added. “You see him all the time smiling. He says hi to you, starts a conversation with you. He was a good soul.”
Although property damage was primarily contained to Mercurio's unit, residents in the remaining 28 condos were displaced until 3 p.m. Thursday as Pepco had to restore electricity and natural gas lines. The American Red Cross assisted 18 people with temporary food and shelter during the 15-hour lockout.
Montgomery County Fire officials tell ABC7, many units did not have working smoke detectors. To prevent a similar tragedy, a troop of firemen spent Thursday afternoon testing smoke detectors, and passing out the life-saving device to those residents without one.
Fire investigators have preliminarily ruled Thursday's blaze as accidental, but have not pinpointed an actual cause. Damage is estimated at $40,000.
"I spoke with him last night and he seemed perfectly fine," Marge Mercurio said with tears filling her eyes. "It's tough. I just hope it gets easier for me to cope with it."