Family, friends gather to remember city inspector linked to building collapse

 After Wagenhoffer's church service, a group of L&I inspectors and staffers in matching blue shirts led the casket out of the church in a downpour. (Amy Z. Quinn/ for NewsWorks)

After Wagenhoffer's church service, a group of L&I inspectors and staffers in matching blue shirts led the casket out of the church in a downpour. (Amy Z. Quinn/ for NewsWorks)

Each of the seven people who died as a result of the Market Street collapse had a story. Ron Wagenhoffer’s began in Manayunk, in the tight tangle of rowhouse streets near St. Lucy’s Church.

He grew up there, graduating from Roxborough High, going into the carpentry business with his brother Michael before going to work for the city — one of those guys who didn’t stray far from the 21st Ward, where his large, close-knit family still lives. In Roxborough and Manayunk, most everybody knows a Wagenhoffer.

Many of those friends and family, joined by a contingent of Wagenhoffer’s co-workers at the Department of Licenses and Inspections, Mayor Michael Nutter and top city officials, gathered for his funeral Tuesday at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Andorra.

Last conversations with Wagenhoffer 

Wagenhoffer, 52, was the city inspector who signed off on the work at the 2134 Market St. demolition site weeks before it collapsed on June 5, killing six. Wagenhoffer took his own life last Wednesday night, leaving behind a wife, Michele, a young son, Luke, grieving friends and stunned colleagues.

City officials have said Wagenhoffer was blameless in the collapse, and several people who knew him said they told him that, too. But Wagenhoffer was devastated by what had happened, and anxious about the grand jury and all the investigations that were to come.

“We all told him, you didn’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about,” his aunt said.

Another friend, a fellow city inspector who saw Wagenhoffer the night before he died, gave him the same advice: You didn’t do anything wrong, so just tell the truth and don’t worry.

But Ron was a sensitive guy, his aunt said, worried for himself and his family. He came home early from work Wednesday. At the house, he left his keys, took a gun, got in his truck. When he didn’t show up to coach Luke’s baseball game that night, friends became concerned. His body was discovered a few hours later, in his truck at the foot of Shawmont Avenue.

‘He was just broken hearted’ 

On Friday, still reeling from his death and planning his funeral, Wagenhoffer’s family was blindsided by what they and city officials insist was an erroneous news report claiming he had admitted fault in the collapse before killing himself.

“People kept coming in, saying did you hear this, did you see that. It was terrible,” the aunt said of those hours at Wagenhoffer’s Roxborough home.

She described Wagenhoffer as a meticulous, responsible, detail-oriented man who naturally felt, in hindsight, that he could have, or should have, done more to prevent the tragedy.

Which of us wouldn’t have second-guessed ourselves, she said, as loved ones gathered for the funeral Mass.

“When it was one death, it was bad enough,” she said. “But when there were six, he was just broken hearted.”

In the Mass, Wagenhoffer was remembered as a devoted father, who mentored younger inspectors, and who loved to fish and play the guitar. 

After the church service, a small army of fellow L&I inspectors and staffers in matching blue shirts led the casket out of the church, where they stood in a downpour in a silent salute before the family left for his burial at Westminster Cemetery.

Tomorrow, City Council begins its hearings into the collapse, which also injured 14 people.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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