When her neighbor’s backyard shed exploded where two young boys were playing, 15-year-old Ashley Ritz didn’t hesitate. She ran straight toward the billowing black smoke and searched for the little boy she could hear whimpering inside, pulled him to safety, and attempted to extinguish his burning clothes with her feet and bare hands.
Ritz lives in the Pimmit Hills section of McLean and attends Marshall High School. On Wednesday, April 21, she was walking home from the bus stop when she stopped to talk to her neighbor at 1925 Leonard Road. “Their mom was sitting on the swing, and I stopped to talk to her. We heard this big boom and were both like, what was that? Then she was screaming my name, saying, ‘Ashley, Ashley, Come help me,’” said Ritz.
Exactly what happened is still under investigation by the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. The shed reportedly held propane, a gasoline canister and equipment for lawn and gardening. The fire from the explosion burned for 20 minutes before it could be brought under control. The shed, its contents and the exterior of the home, as well as that of a neighbor’s house, were damaged by the fire.
Two 4-year-old brothers, Devon and Tyler Lutz, 10 months apart, were either in the shed or in the vicinity of the shed when it exploded. Detectives have been unable to determine where the boys were or the cause of the explosion. The children were med-evac’d to an area hospital and transported last week to a medical facility in Boston that specializes in burns. They are being kept in a temporary drug-induced coma to keep them comfortable while their skin begins to heal and while doctors prepare for skin grafts, according to Ritz.
“TYLER WAS OUT and walking around. His mother was helping him, but Devon was still inside. I could hear him crying. He was close to me, but I couldn’t see him because of all the smoke,” said Ritz.
She was able to grab the child and pull him away from the shed. “His skin slid a little when I picked him up. I tried to stomp out the fire with my foot. It was on his pants, but there had to be something on it because it wouldn’t go out,” said Ritz.
She next tried using her hands to smother the flames, but to no avail. After receiving blistering burns on her hands, she finally took the boy’s trousers off to get the fire away from him. “It was all over him. His shirt, there was hardly anything left of it but a little patch,” said Ashley.
Lt. Raul Castillo, with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s Public Information Office, said, “Her actions prevented further injuries and possibly saved his life. She should be praised for her actions.”
The high-school freshman is a little overwhelmed by the accolades she’s received. “It was just automatic. I didn’t even think about it. I just did it. I use to baby-sit for them. I’ve known them all their lives. I think I would do this for anybody but more for anyone I’d known forever,” said Ritz.
“They are very good kids. They play all the time together, and they love video games. Every time they’d come up here, they’d call me ‘punk.’ They are cute like that,” said Ritz.
The boys are well regarded in their neighborhood and at their preschool. “We’ve offered our services to the family for anything they need while they are away. The boys are just so sweet, we want to do anything we can to help them right now,” said neighbor Joann Leme.
Amy Law is the boys' teacher at Apple Orchard preschool. The day after the fire, she worked with the other children in the Lutz boys’ class to create a get-well poster to hang outside their home. Working on the poster, said Law, was the school's way of addressing what had happened and to help the boys’ peers deal with the accident. “They are young. They don’t really understand. We told them their friends were in a bad accident and wouldn’t be able to come back to school for a while. The class spent an hour with crayons coloring this for them,” said Law.
“I THINK SHE’S JUST INCREDIBLE. Everyone is just so proud of her (Ashley). Because of her relationship with those kids, I would have expected this from her,” said Ashley’s mother, Virginia Ritz.
The children’s parents are in Boston but are keeping in touch with Ashley through relatives in the area. “They said thank-you. They said thank-you so many times. They’re keeping me updated about what’s going on,” said Ashley.
In the meantime, county officials and family members are planning to celebrate her actions. According to Castillo, the Department “will be coordinating some sort of recognition with the public schools.” He also intends to work with the Board of Supervisors to have Ritz recognized for her act of bravery.
Virginia Ritz said, “We haven’t decided the right thing to do yet. Nothing seems good enough.”
Ashley is getting plenty of recognition at her high school. “I go through the hall, and they all call me a hero. It’s kind of cool,” said Ritz. Her experience with helping the boys, she said, has strengthened her resolve to become a doctor when she gets older.
“You know, I kind of knew it was going to be a bad day anyway because I got called down to the office and got a referral because someone thought I was cheating on a test. I wasn’t. But I knew it was going to be a bad day after that,” said Ritz.