The Norman Transcript

February 18, 2013

100 fire victims remembered in outdoor ceremony

By Michelle R. Smith
The Associated Press

WEST WARWICK, R.I. — Survivors of a 2003 nightclub fire that killed 100 people and relatives of those killed huddled together in bitter cold Sunday at the site of the blaze to mark the 10th anniversary of it.

Some brought flowers and paid their respects at the handmade crosses that dot the site for each person who died. Others cried and spoke of missing their loved ones and the difficulty of moving past such trauma.

“People that weren’t here really don’t understand why we can’t let this stuff go. I was 30 seconds away from dying,” said Walter Castle Jr., 39, a survivor who suffered third-degree burns in his lungs, throat and bronchial tubes. He said he lost many friends and was in counseling until 2009. Recently, as the 10th anniversary approached, he began having terrible nightmares and had to go back into counseling.

“It’s just very tough,” he said.

The anniversary of the blaze is Wednesday. The fire broke out when pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White ignited flammable packing foam that had been installed in the club as soundproofing. Last month, a fire at a nightclub in Brazil killed more than 230 people under circumstances that were eerily similar: A band’s pyrotechnic display set fire to soundproofing foam.

Among those who spoke Sunday was former Gov. Don Carcieri, who took office the month before the fire and still gets choked up when speaking about it. He remembered the days families waited at a hotel for word that their loved ones’ remains had been identified, and the anger everyone felt, asking how the tragedy could have happened. But he also remembered how people in Rhode Island, a state with a population of just 1 million, pulled together to help each other.

“At a time of our state’s worst tragedy, in some sense, it was our people’s finest hour,” he said.

Angela Bogart, who was 19 when her mother, Jude Henault, was killed in the fire, said she has come to know and understand her mother more in the 10 years since she died, especially since she has become a mother herself.

“My mom lives in me in everything I do. I hear her voice wherever I go,” she said. “When I walk hand-in-hand with my little girl, my mother is holding her other hand.”

The ceremony also featured musical performances, a reading of the names of the people who died and 100 seconds of silence.

While somber, the annual gathering at the fire site took on a more hopeful tone this year than in years past because a foundation set up to build a permanent memorial secured ownership of the site in September after years of trying. On Sunday, the Station Fire Memorial Foundation released final plans for the memorial.

They call for a 30-foot-high entrance gate topped by an Aeolian harp. Wind passing through the harp will create music, a reminder that it was music that brought people together that night.

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