Marie Gemmell was home with her two youngest children Monday morning when a small jet crashed into a neighbor's yard, and one of its wings flew through the side of the Gemmell home in Gaithersburg, Md. The trio was likely upstairs when the downstairs suddenly burst into flames, fueled by jet fuel from the wing; the first floor was almost blown out. Gemmell sought refuge in a bathroom with 3-year-old Cole and infant Devin, one of them in her arms, the other between her legs, as she covered them in an attempt to save them. "She loved those kids more than anything on the face of the Earth," a friend tells the Washington Post. But within minutes, authorities say, the three were dead of smoke inhalation. In a wrenching twist, it was the first Monday Cole was home from daycare after switching to a part-time schedule following his little brother's birth less than two months ago.
Dad Ken was at work and sister Arabelle, 7, was at school when the tragedy occurred. Ken Gemmel rushed home, arriving at his still-burning house to the news that firefighters couldn't account for Marie, Cole, and Devin. Pallavi Rana, who runs Cole's daycare and had become close friends with the family, also rushed over. "The basement light was on, so we were hoping they were in the basement. We were living in hope," she tells the Post. She ended up fetching Arabelle from school and bringing her to the daycare until a relative could pick her up. "We lost Marie, the love of my life and college sweetheart, and our two young, innocent and joyful sons—a loss that no person should ever endure," wrote Ken in a Facebook post, according to USA Today. "We also appreciate the dedication and hard work of the firefighters, police, and other first responders who did everything in their power to try to save my family during this horrific event." (Read more plane crash stories.)