WARWICK, R.I. (AP) — Relatives of the 100 people who died in a 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire cried and held each other Saturday during the unveiling of a so-called satellite memorial to their loved ones, capping a month in which a yearslong effort to secure the West Warwick site of the fire for another memorial finally came to fruition.
The Warwick memorial places a special focus on the 10 city residents who died in the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station nightclub, which happened when pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White ignited flammable foam that lined the walls of the club. Nine of the Warwick residents' names are inscribed in a granite slab that sits at the top of a 28-foot-diameter brick circular plaza. Around the exterior of the circle are 100 8-by-8-inch bricks inscribed with the name of every person who died.
Each victim's name was read aloud as the memorial was dedicated.
"It is my hope that this memorial serves as a stepping stone to the memorial in West Warwick," said Jody King, the driving force behind the Warwick memorial. His brother, Tracy, was a bouncer at The Station nightclub and died there that night.
Plans for the Warwick memorial were announced just over one month ago and initially bothered some family members. At the time, the site of the fire was still in private hands. Efforts to get the owners to donate the site had gone nowhere for years, and dozens of letters and phone calls to the owners asking what could be done to secure the land for a memorial had gone unanswered.
Some family members worried that a memorial in Warwick would take the focus off securing the site of the fire. Dave Kane, whose 18-year-old son, Nicholas O'Neill, died in the fire, said it was time for the state to seize the land by eminent domain. Gov. Lincoln Chafee said his office would look into it, and House Speaker Gordon Fox also said he was interested.
Gina Russo, a fire survivor working with the Station Fire Memorial Foundation, reached out again to the property owners, who signaled a willingness to donate the land. On Sept. 28, they transferred the deed to the foundation. Plans are now moving forward for the memorial at the fire site, and a groundbreaking is scheduled for the spring, Russo has said.
Chafee said Saturday that the donation of the land and the unveiling of the Warwick memorial are "big steps toward healing" from one of the most horrific events in state history.
Bonnie Hoisington, mother of Abbie Hoisington, who was 28 when she was killed, said she was gratified that after nearly 10 years there is finally a memorial to those who died. But she said the hard work is ahead at the site, which must be turned from a makeshift memorial filled with homemade crosses, weather-faded photos and stuffed animals, into something permanent.
Former Gov. Don Carcieri, who took office less than two months before the fire, was among several officials who gave remarks. He choked up and had to pause as he remembered the community coming together to support the victims' families and survivors in the dark days after the blaze.
"My fondest hope is that soon we will have a memorial at the site for all of those that perished," he said.
Nancy Crisostomi, whose son, Alfred, died, said she has never been to the site of the fire because it's too painful. This "will be a nice peaceful place to come," she said.
Claire Bruyere, mother of Bonnie Hamelin, who died in the blaze, said the Warwick memorial will serve as a place for families to come for comfort until the main memorial is built.
"It's beautiful, and I hope it will bring the other family members peace," she said.
When asked what would bring her peace, she replied: "Getting the land was a big step, but I don't think even that's going to help much."
Hamelin was the victim from Warwick whose name was not inscribed on the granite slab. Bruyere didn't want her daughter memorialized separately from all 100 victims.
"They died together," she said. "They should be memorialized together."