By Barbara Walters, Kalamazoo Gazette

BANGOR TOWNSHIP, Mich. — A stuffed toy dog he’d given his grandson was all

Brian Reppert could find of his wife, daughter and two grandchildren’s

belongings as he wandered through the shredded bits of rubble Monday.

“Hug your kids,” he said, his voice trembling, “because you don’t know what will

happen. It’s so easy to put things off. You think you have so much time.”

Brian Reppert lost his wife, Priscilla, 56, his daughter and son-in-law, Alaine

31, and Marshall Keith Lotz, 30, and his two grandsons, Connor, 4, and Colin, 1,

in an explosion early Sunday that blew apart the neat, ranch-style home where

the Lotzes had just moved Saturday.

Michigan State Police said a propane gas leak into the basement caused the

explosion that scattered debris from the 25-year-old home over surrounding

farmland and into trees, leaving the five family members dead. Police are still

investigating what sparked the blast, theorizing it may have been a water heater

or other appliance and ruling out foul play.

Relatives wandered among the wreckage Monday with plastic bags, accompanied by

police, picking up what few items they could salvage.

The Lotzes’ move to Michigan had begun on a happy note, said friends, family and

co-workers.

Keith, as he was known, had received a promotion: management of the modern

1,800-hog-capacity facility operated by his employer, United Feeds Inc., based

in Sheridan, Ind.

His wife of six years, Alaine, was thrilled she could finally quit her job as

assistant manager of CVS Pharmacy in Crawfordsville.

“She was so excited about being a stay-at-home mom,” said her co-worker,

Stephanie Ball, whose children spent a lot of time with the Lotz boys. “I’ve

never seen a family so close.”

Priscilla and Brian Reppert had driven up with them from their home in Lafayette

to help with the baby bed and other household items, and to watch their

grandchildren.

“Colin just learned to walk,” his grandfather said. “He was exploring what his

spot in the world would be. He would see me coming, and we laugh. …

“Connor was 4. He could spell his name and count. He was constantly surprising

me with what he knew. His passion was dinosaurs. He knew all their names. I

think he would have been a paleontologist someday.”

But there would be no somedays for Connor, his baby brother, mother, father or

grandmother.

The gas, heavier than air, was accumulating from the floor up in the basement,

police said. Brian Reppert passed a door he thinks led to the basement. Had he

opened it, he may have detected the odor.

The Repperts own a shop in Lafayette and Brian had to return to make some

deliveries Sunday.

“My wife is the planner of the family. She insisted that I go back Saturday

afternoon by 3:30 so I wouldn’t have to drive in the dark. She was to meet me at

home Sunday.”

Beginning Sunday morning, he tried to reach his family. “It rang and rang. I

kept trying to call.”

Police reached him on his cell phone Sunday afternoon.

One of the onlookers to the scene Monday was John De Visser, who built the house

for his son, Marvin, and his family. “They kept it just as beautiful as

anything. It was full of antiques.”

The place had been a sprawling family farm in those days. But as with many

family farms in the area, tough economic times ended in an auction a few years

ago. Shamrock Farms of Fulton, Mich., bought the place and hired United to

operate it.

But even big company farms require people to run them. Keith, who had a degree

in animal science, seemed to be the ideal candidate. And his young family seemed

to be the ideal farm family.

Monday afternoon, at the end of a long dirt road where he had last seen their

family, Brian Reppert, his son, Ethan, and his wife’s sister, Cheryl Veldbrizen,

tried to tell a group of reporters what had been lost in a few fiery moments the

day before.

“She was an angel,” Brian Reppert said of his daughter.

The two had become especially close since she had gotten married, sometimes

going “antiquing” together. She was looking forward to being a full-time mother

in the quiet west Michigan countryside.

His wife had lived to help others, giving generously to charities, putting aside

her own schedule to lend a hand when somebody needed it. She was the matriarch

of the family, pulling everybody together when her parents died a few years ago.

“She kept our focus. That’s what we have to have now: That God’s in control,”

Veldbrizen said. “She was my compass.”

Asked about his grandchildren, Brian Reppert’s response was immediate.

“They were God’s gifts.”