Ronald Wagenhoffer, Philly building collapse inspector, commits suicide
Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections construction plan review specialist Ronald Wagenhoffer, 52, died shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday night from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound, city officials announced Thursday morning.
Wagenhoffer was found in his car parked on the 100 block of Shawmont Avenue in Roxborough.
A 16-year veteran of city government, Wagenhoffer on May 14 inspected the Center City demolition site that last week partially collapsed onto a neighboring Salvation Army thrift store, killing six people and injuring 14 more.
“With the building collapse a week ago, we have now lost seven lives in connection with this tragedy,” Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said Thursday.
Gillison, who called the Department of Licenses and Inspections “a family,” said the city is offering counseling services to Wagenhoffer’s colleagues and already held several meetings with staffers Thursday morning.
“I want everybody to understand that there’s a lot of hurt and pain associated with the tragedy that occurred on June 5, 2013,” Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams said.
“We take that pain home with us at night and we wake up to it each and every day. We strive to protect our citizens by enforcing the building codes, and that’s what Ron did. He worked extremely hard prior to that tragedy and he worked hard after the tragedy. He was a dedicated civil servant – he loved his job.”
Wagenhoffer was in 2011 nominated for the Wismer Award, an honor the Department of Licenses and Inspections presents each year during Building Safety Month to an exemplary employee in the construction code enforcement division.
Williams said he was a dedicated craftsman who mentored young new building inspectors and continually strived to better himself.
Wagenhoffer’s behavior following the collapse didn’t outwardly raise red flags, according to officials.
“Everybody knew that he had taken it hard,” Gillison said.
“But the way that he was doing his job, he was handling it the way they thought he would be handling it, which was to work even harder.”
Wagenhoffer did not take a leave of absence after the tragedy.
Gillison said the man worked a full shift Wednesday, leaving work around 3 p.m.
“There were individuals in the department who were reaching out to him, including the commissioner, who wanted to come and check in with him and see how he was doing,” Gillison said, noting the meeting was arranged but never had a chance to take place.
“He just kept going and kept doing what he was doing, what he loved.”
Gillison said while he would not speculate as to the motive behind Wagenhoffer’s apparent suicide, the inspector did not face allegations of wrongdoing in any of the five investigations currently underway into last week’s fatal building collapse.
“I will state – right here, right now – this man did nothing wrong,” Gillison said.
“The Department did what it was supposed to do under the code that existed at the time, and we are proud of this department and its employees – period.”
He acknowledged municipal workers across the board are feeling pressure due to the scrutiny the collapse brought down on city government and urged workers to check on one another and report any behaviors that may indicate distress.
“It’s the city of Philadelphia that is feeling the pressure,” Gillison said.
“And we will reveal the character that we have by responding to the pressure that we’re under and we’re doing it in a professional way, just like this man served every day of his life.”
Wagenhoffer is survived by his wife, Michelle, and a son.
“He will be sorely missed and, again, our hearts go out to his entire family as we suffer yet another tragedy in our city,” Williams said.