SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Photos of the good times are all Geraldyne Hairston has left of her beloved partner, Auzie Houchins.

“What can you say when you’ve been together 20 years?” Hairston said as she flipped through a photo album outside the yellow, 118-year-old home where Houchins grew up in South Los Angeles. “He’s the type who really didn’t change much.”

What You Need To Know

  • Two elderly victims of a botched fireworks detonation in South LA have died in recent weeks

  • Geraldyne Hairston believes the stress of experiencing the blast, losing their family pet and subsequent displacement contributed to Auzie Houchin's death

  • Houchins was one of 80 displaced residents who have been unable to return home since the June 30 incident

  • Councilman Curren Price, Jr. said his office is committed to "making sure our neighbors are whole again"

The couple’s two decades together ended two weeks ago, when Hairston found the retired Lynwood School District teacher dead in their hotel room. Their lives had been in free fall since June 30, when the Los Angeles Police Department bomb squad botched an illegal fireworks detonation in the neighborhood, sending 17 people to the hospital and rocking the historic neighborhood.

Both Hairston and Houchins were inside when the blast shattered all 16 windows in the home, sending glass crashing down on the elderly couple. Houchins' dog Fluffy ran away and hasn’t been seen since.

Hairston explained that they were aware of the operation that day, and an LAPD officer asked them to evacuate, but the couple couldn’t because of medical disabilities.

"He’s in a wheelchair, so they said, 'Well, it probably will be safe. You can stay here,'" Hairston said.

After the blast, as Hairston explained, Houchins wasn’t the same.

"He was just very short tempered about everything because he was out of his element," she said.

The incident is still under investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but at a July press conference, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the bomb squad grossly underestimated the amount of explosives they placed inside the department’s Total Containment Vehicle. LAPD procedure did not require weighing the material.

Officers thought they placed the equivalent of 16 pounds of explosives inside, but it was likely over 42 pounds. The maximum capacity of the TCV was up to 25 pounds, Moore said.

Auzie was the second elderly victim displaced by the blast to die in recent weeks. His coroner’s report said the 72-year-old father died of “sudden cardiac dysfunction due to arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”

Hairston believes it was the stress of the ordeal — experiencing the blast, losing his dog and subsequent displacement.

Last week, Moore told the LA Police Commission he doesn't believe the blast caused either death.

“(I) do not believe their death was a result of the explosion, rather more long-standing underlying health issues,” Moore said. “Not withstanding that, we are concerned about it. We’re aware of it. We don’t minimize the loss of life on any occasion.”

Ron Gochez, president and organizer of South Central Neighborhood Council, explained how the city is taking too long to make it right. Twenty-five families on the block are still displaced, and a dozen homes still have boarded-up windows.

“If this is Brentwood or Venice or another more affluent part of the city, I know for a fact it would not take this long to fix windows,” Gochez said.

Last Friday, Councilman Curren Price, Jr. saw for himself that the windows at Houchins' former home had been replaced.

“I’m certainly not a medical expert,” Price said. “I can’t opine on the cause of death. We certainly recognize this has been a stressful situation for a lot of people.”

Price added that his office is working to distribute $10,000 grants to 25 families and repair more than 30 homes along 27th Street. He blamed the delays on the reluctance of victims to accept assistance, worried it might interfere with their ability to sue the city for damages.

“This is by no means in replace of any other settlement or benefits they may have coming," Price said. "This is 'no strings attached' as a gift from the council office and, again, we are committed to making sure our neighbors are made whole again."

Price noted that the city will continue to pay for families to stay at a downtown hotel until they can return home, no matter how long it takes.

Hairston is eager to move back as soon as the house is cleaned up and safe. Houchins was one of the last Black residents on the street, a high school football star who resisted change even as the neighborhood changed around him.

“I won’t probably process it until I’m back in the house, and you’re in the room, and they’re not there with you,” Hairston said.

Until then, Hairston will continue looking through the albums at the life that they shared.