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Friends share memories of four family members killed in Northfield Township house explosion

Posted at 6:10 PM, Jan 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-02 18:10:16-05

NORTHFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WXYZ) — Four family members are dead and two others injured after a horrific house explosion.

As police and fire marshals work to determine what sparked the deadly blast, friends of the family are sharing their memories and hoping the community can help support the family’s surviving teenage son.

As this community continues to grieve, police in Northfield Township say they do not suspect foul play in this explosion. At the moment, they’re calling it an “undetermined fuel-air explosion.”

51-year-old Hope Bragg, along with her 53-year-old husband Don died in the explosion. The blast also killed their 19-year-old daughter Elizabeth and their 22-year-old son Kenneth. 16-year-old Stephen Bragg survived, along with Hope’s father 72-year-old Richard Pruden. Both are hospitalized with serious injuries.

The Braggs were in town from Arkansas visiting Pruden for the holidays.

“My heart sank when they said where it was at-- we almost know every single person that lives in this community,” said Northfield Township Supervisor Ken Dignan, who went to Whitmore Lake High School with Hope.

Dignan said she was one of the smartest people he’s ever known.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” said Dignan. “She was a very caring, loving individual, very dedicated to the outdoors.”

The explosion scattered pieces of Pruden’s home over 2 acres.

“There’s nothing left of the property, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Northfield Township Police Lt. David Powell.

Powell said police do not suspect foul play, but so far investigators don’t know the cause of the blast or whether the house was heated by propane or natural gas.

“We have an undetermined fuel-air explosion,” said Powell.

The 7 Investigators asked if any work had recently been done on the house or if any gas appliances had recently been hooked up.

“I don’t know if they’ve had any recent appliances installed, that’s still part of our investigation,” said Powell.

Michigan State Police fire investigators and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are assisting with the investigation to determine the cause of the explosion.

“More than anything, I want people to know what a big loss this is because they were such good people,” said Ashley Dingman, who was a friend of Hope’s and worked with her for 7 years at Arkansas 4-H through the University of Arkansas.

“She really was passionate about archeology and in fact, the whole family was. Her husband, Don, and her were both members of the Archeological Society here in Arkansas. And their oldest son was about to graduate with a degree kind of related to the archeology field,” said Dingman.

Don Bragg was a research forester with the US Department of Agriculture. His colleague at the USDA, Sarah Farmer, released this statement to 7 Action News:

After receiving his PhD, Dr. Don C. Bragg began his 23-years as a Research Forester with SRS spending his entire career in Monticello, Arkansas. In 2017, Don became Project Leader of the Longleaf Pine and Southern Pine research work units. Don was an expert in the silviculture of southern pines, and his most recent work has been to identify and quantify old-growth conditions in southern pines. Passionate about history and archeology, Don spent a lot of his free time assisting on archeological digs throughout the state of Arkansas. He was an active member of the Society of American Foresters and served as the Editor of the Journal of Forestry from 2013 to 2017. The Station will miss Don’s leadership and enthusiasm for forest history, forest ecology, and active forest management. We are terribly sad to report this tragic news to his colleagues.

Dingman says Elizabeth Bragg was involved in 4-H and beekeeping and was studying at the University of Arkansas. Kenneth Bragg was planning to graduate this year from Michigan Technological University.

Dingman says she will miss the funny text messages Hope used to send to brighten her 4-H team’s day, and says Hope would go out of her way to do acts of kindness. One year, Hope even brought Dingman a special almond-flavored pastry all the way from Wisconsin so Dingman could give it to her mother for Christmas.

“They definitely lived by example, and they were just kind and generous people. They never left anyone feeling any kind of ill way,” said Dingman.

Arkansas 4-H is planning to put together a scholarship fund to honor the Bragg family.

Meanwhile, several GoFundMe’s have been set up to pay for medical expenses for the surviving family members, and to help cover funeral expenses.

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