Mark Burrington, the fiancé of Ruth Berg, who was one of two people killed Wednesday in a gas explosion at a private Christian school in Minneapolis, is speaking out about the accident and what he wants the world to know about his longtime love.
“Every plan, dream, goal that I had, died yesterday,” Burrington, 47, tells PEOPLE. “There’s not a plan that I had that did not include Ruth.”
Burrington, who was at home when the blast occurred, says the explosion shook his house, which is just a few houses away from Minnehaha Academy. Berg, 47, had worked as a receptionist at the school for 17 years.
Burrington and Berg were set to marry on September 28 at Bear Lake in Colorado, and they had just received their wedding invitations on Tuesday.
“Anybody who met her, fell in love with her instantly,” he says of Berg, who was also mom to a daughter, 28. “She was so beautiful and so nice, there’s no way you can meet Ruth and not love her. Everything a guy dreams about, I had it all. I had everything, and now it’s gone.”
The couple last spoke to each other on Wednesday when they discussed what they would eat for lunch that day — a decision that had become a complicated matter since the two had recently become vegetarians. “We were just kind of laughing about our choice to go vegetarian and that we just made our lives more difficult,” Burrington says. “Then it was like, ‘Okay, I’ll come get you an hour.’ ”
A few minutes later, Burrington heard a blast that shook the house.
He didn’t immediately know that it came from Minnehaha Academy, and he called Berg to ask if she heard the explosion, too, but he didn’t receive an answer. As neighbors gathered outside, he heard that the blast came from the direction of the school, and he took off running toward it. When he came upon the demolished building, no one could pinpoint where Berg was, and Burrington ran inside.
“I just kept screaming and screaming and it was just so quiet in there, no answers, just nothing,” Burrington says. “I was trying to go over stuff, but then smoke started coming in and I knew I had to get out of there, the smell was so bad that my eyes and lungs were burning.”
As time passed and Berg, along with 81-year-old janitor, John Carlson, remained the only two people unaccounted for, the horrible truth began to sink in for Burrington.
“I knew she was gone. I just knew it,” he says. “There’s just no way, the explosion happened right under where she was sitting.”
Minneapolis police say that the explosion was caused when contractors working on the building ruptured a gas line. Nine people were taken to a nearby hospital. No children in the school’s summer program were injured.
Burrington says that there should not have been anyone on school grounds if gas lines were being worked on. “There’s no reason for anyone to be in that school, they could have easily shut it down for a day,” he says. “It’s just stupid.”
Berg and Carlson were good friends at the school for many years, Burrington says. “That’s the only comfort I get out of this, that they went together,” he says. “They loved each other and she cared for him. I thought the world of John.”
Burrington and Berg met when they were in third grade at Seward Elementary School in Minneapolis, and started dating four years ago. Though, if you ask Burrington, if it weren’t for other obstacles in their lives, they would have been together from the start. It didn’t take long after they began dating for Burrington to ask her to marry him. He asked twice, actually—once while they were in the car after he picked Berg up from work, and for the second time a few minutes later when they drove to the playground at their old elementary school.
“She didn’t want a big wedding or anything, she just wanted to be married to me, and that’s all I wanted, too,” he says through tears. “Since we started dating we never spent the night apart, we were with each other every second that we could be.”
Berg was supposed to get fitted for her wedding dress on Friday afternoon, Burrington says.
“I just wish that I was with her, that’s all I really wish,” he says. “I’m destroyed, I don’t know what to do right now.”