As the 10th anniversary of the tragic Station Nightclub fire approaches, a groundbreaking is planned for a memorial remembering the 10 Warwick residents who lost their lives on the evening of Feb. 20, 2003. The groundbreaking will take place tomorrow at the site on Veterans Memorial Drive near Warwick City Hall.
Jody King, who lost his brother, Tracy, in the fire, spearheaded the memorial and founded the Warwick Station Nightclub Memorial Fund. But King’s idea for a Warwick memorial isn’t getting everyone’s praise.
David Kane, father of the fire’s youngest victim, Nicholas O’Neill, sent out an email Sunday calling the planned Warwick memorial a “bad idea.”
“This idea flies in the face of all that is proper and just,” Kane wrote. “We don’t need another satellite memorial; we already have one hundred of them, we call them grave sites.”
Kane said that moving the focus of the tragedy is a “giant step” away from the goal of families to create an on-site memorial.
“This goal is to have a legitimate and permanent reminder of what happens when fire inspectors, elected officials and judicial appointees, engulfed in corruption and incompetence, choose to turn their backs on the rights and safety of our citizens,” he said.
But King doesn’t see how establishing a memorial in Warwick will detract from what victims’ families are trying to achieve at the site of the tragedy. While the memorial will focus on the 10 Warwick victims, it will also have the names of all 100 who died.
“This memorial is all about remembering, never forgetting and healing,” said King. “I’m trying to move forward with all of that. I believe that he [Kane] doesn’t want to move forward.”
King said, if anything, his announcement about the Warwick memorial has helped those who run the Station Family Fund and the Station Fire Memorial Foundation, two separate organizations from King’s own fund.
“Now people are talking,” said King.
King said the memorial will also pay tribute to the first responders.
Kane’s email opposing the Warwick memorial also encouraged Rhode Islanders to work with the Station Fire Memorial Foundation to acquire the West Warwick site of the former nightclub. He said the current owner of the site “has displayed nothing but selfishness, ignorance and stonehearted disregard of these families.”
Kane called upon the state of Rhode Island to take the site of the Station by eminent domain, a move that Governor Lincoln Chafee told the AP yesterday he would support.
“This action would, once and for all, deliver the only legitimate Station Fire Memorial to the hands of those who not only deserve it but have already paid for it with the lives of their loved ones,” he said.
King said he agrees that there should be a memorial at the site of the nightclub.
“I don’t care what it takes,” said King. “It should be done.”
But for now, King’s focus is on the Warwick site. The proposed Warwick memorial is being funded by the Warwick Station Nightclub Memorial Fund, a 501(c)3 founded by King. The project is projected to cost $15,000, and King said he has $10,000 in the bank with another $10,000 in in-kind donations.
“I get blown away every day,” said King about the outpouring of support he’s received. “Nobody forgets.”
Located in the heart of Apponaug, the memorial will pay particular tribute to Kevin Anderson, Tina Maria Ayer, Alfred Cristostomi, Michael Gonsalves, Skott Greene, Bonnie Hamelin, Tracy King, Michael Kulz, Tammy Mattera-Housa and Rebecca Shaw, the 10 Warwick residents who perished in the fire. Warwick had more casualties than any other community in the state, and this memorial is the first of its kind in Rhode Island.
"I can't wait to see it," King said. "For me, I'm doing it for Tracy; to make sure his sons remember how special he was. But in the process, there were 99 other special stories – they all need to be remembered."
Speakers at Wednesday’s groundbreaking will include Mayor Scott Avedisian, Father Robert Marciano, Rabbi Peter Stein and Jody King.
"Jody has put a lot of time and care into this project, and I appreciate that he has worked closely with Warwick families, who will forever be affected by this tragedy, to develop a memorial that remembers the members of our community who were lost," Avedisian said. "It is also appropriate that the memorial pay tribute to all of the victims of the fire. It's my hope that this site will offer families, friends and survivors a place to reflect, remember and, perhaps, to gain a small measure of solace and peace."
The memorial is made possible with generous donations, including in-kind support from Cardi Corporation, A Sciolto & Son Monuments and Spalding Brick, accounting for more than $10,000 in donated materials. Local architect Harvey Wagner donated his services to design the memorial. The installation will be done by volunteers from the Warwick Police and Fire Departments and the city's Department of Public Works.
"The most special part of this is it's a neutral place. Some people don't go to the fire site because they feel it's a negative place. I'm hoping an old firemen's memorial is a more meaningful place, a more neutral place, and a more comforting place," said King.
A dedication of the memorial is planned for Saturday, Oct. 20, exactly four months before the anniversary. The public is invited to attend both the groundbreaking and the October dedication. The Warwick Station Nightclub Memorial Fund extends a special invitation to families and friends of the victims, whom King hopes will be comforted by this memorial.
With reports from Kim Kalunian