Woman killed in Phoenix home explosion remembered as 'an amazing spirit and an angel'

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Anita Johnson (Source: Courtesy of Tiffany Mason-Lopez) Anita Johnson (Source: Courtesy of Tiffany Mason-Lopez)

A passionate volunteer with a giving spirit in the end gave her life helping others. 

On Friday night, we learned more about 73-year-old Anita Johnson, who was tragically killed when a home exploded Thursday in Phoenix.

"It just hurt. It's been hurting all day," said Max Nicklas, who was friends with Johnson through their Bible study group at North Phoenix Baptist Church. 

Through the group, Nicklas 'adopted' a local family, Prudencia Gonzalez and her three grandsons and often helped out with groceries and home repairs. 

"We bought a couch, we bought bunk beds," said Nicklas.

But he needed the help of a translator. Able to speak Spanish, Johnson offered to help, and soon took a leading role assisting the family. 

"She did a lot of heavy work," said Nicklas. 

Recently she helped fundraise for a new stove. She was there as it was being delivered.

Fire investigators believe there was a leak in the old propane stove.  A large pool of gas collected in the home, somehow the gas ignited and the house blew.

"It was an accident and nobody expected it," said Nicklas.

Johnson was killed and two Spencer's appliance workers were injured. 

Johnson's daughter Tiffany Mason-Lopez said in an email to Arizona's Family, "an amazing spirit and an angel has been called home to heaven."

The family who lived at the home near 11th Ave and Fillmore is now displaced, and feeling overwhelmed by the horrible loss of their friend.

"She was a very good person and a beautiful person," Gonzales said through a translator. "The house is the smallest thing, it doesn't matter."

GoFundMe account has been set up to replace the family's possessions.

"I know that Anita would say 'Help the family, let's help them because they're the ones that [sic] need it,'" said Nicklas.

"Our mother, Anita Johnson, was a bright light in this world.  She lived a life in service to others. Her bible study group had been working for many many months to assist the family that resided at the now devastated home. She, with the help of her friends, neighbors, and family had held yard sales and a lemonade stand at my mom's house to raise money to buy furniture and other items for this family in need. All of the items, including the Christmas presents that mom had purchased for them, were set ablaze in the fire. 

Our mother was at their home at the time of the accident because the family needed to be at an appointment.  She was there to receive the installation of a new stove that her group had purchased for them. The family had not had a working stove for months if not years. 

This is a devastating tragedy for our family, her friends, and our community. Our mother was working so hard to help this loving grandmother who is the sole provider for her three young grandsons, and we are comforted by the fact that, although she is gone, the family was not injured. However they are homeless.

We realize that there are people collecting money to assist Prudencia and her grandsons, but our mother's true wish was that they would have safe and affordable housing for the future. We are not asking for donations, but if anyone out there knows of a safe and healthy long term home for this family, our mother's mission would be fulfilled and that would bring us all some peace. 

Our mother, Anita, always turned the most difficult circumstances into a blessing and our hope and wish is that someone with that same inner light can do that for Prudencia and her grandsons."  -  Tiffany Mason-Lopez

Phoenix Fire Department and Phoenix police have been collecting their own donations. Saturday morning they plan to present clothes, toys and giftcards to the family. 

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Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Lauren ReimerLauren Reimer joined the 3TV/CBS 5 family in June 2016. She is originally from Racine, WI but is no stranger to our heat.

Click to learn more about Lauren.

Lauren Reimer

She previously worked for KVOA in Tucson, covering topics that matter to Arizonans including the monsoon, wildfires and border issues. During the child migrant crisis of 2014, Reimer was one of only a handful of journalists given access to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility in Nogales, where hundreds of unaccompanied children were being held after crossing into the U.S. from Central America. Before that, Reimer worked at WREX in Rockford, IL. Lauren is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee and still visits home often. When not chasing news stories, Reimer loves to explore, enjoying everything from trying new adventurous foods to visiting state and national parks or local places of historical significance.

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