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Remembering the victim in Belle explosion

Published: Dec. 9, 2020 at 11:11 PM EST
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KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - An explosion Tuesday night at Optima Chemicals Company in Belle claimed a man’s life.

John Gillenwater, who worked for Optima, was one of four people who went to the hospital after the explosion. He later died of his injuries.

“I am totally devastated, totally at a loss for words, there’s just no way to wrap your mind around this,” said Tim Bolick, a friend of Gillenwater.

Bolick said he and Gillenwater met through their church, River Ridge Teays Valley, roughly eight years ago. The two were first members there and later both worked there.

“John was a wonderful Christian, family man. (He) loved the Lord, there’s no doubt about that, and John loved his family.”

Bolick said Gillenwater was a brother in Christ, and people knew that through his words and actions.

“He did a lot of work in nursing homes and assisted living facilities where he would go in and minister to the elderly who had become disconnected from their churches,” Bolick told WSAZ.

His family issued this statement:

“The family is devastated over the loss of their husband, father and friend John Gillenwater. John was beloved by many in his community and his church. Tina and her children are surrounded by family and friends in this great time of need. What happened was a tragedy. John was the sole bread winner for his family, and many are asking how they can help. First, the family covets your prayers. John Gillenwater was a true man of faith and the family believes in the power of prayer. Second, a benefit account for the family has been established with City National Bank. We encourage those who would like to show support for Tina and the family during this time to donate by contacting any local branch referencing the benefit account for John Gillenwater.”

The Chemours representative says the incident did not originate in the Chemours plant located on the site and that all Chemours employees were safe and accounted for Tuesday evening.

Kanawha County Emergency Management Director CW Sigman, tells WSAZ that chlorine and methanol were involved in the explosion.

Following the explosion, three people were transported to the hospital and a fourth person took himself to seek treatment.

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