Thick, heavy clouds hovered above an assembly of more than 150 people Saturday morning at the Warwick Station Nightclub Memorial dedication ceremony.
Hearts were also heavy, but in the end, the rain held up and sunshine broke through the gloom.
Former Governor Donald Carcieri, who was Rhode Island’s Governor at the time of the tragic fire that claimed the lives of 100 people Feb. 20, 2003, became choked up when addressing the crowd. The fire was the fourth deadliest nightclub blaze in American history.
Still, Carcieri said the memorial is necessary and would not have been possible without the efforts of Warwick resident Jody King, whose brother Tracy E. King was one of its victims.
“There was a tremendous team that made this happen but in the aftermath of that terrible fire, I spent a lot of time with Jody,” Carcieri said. “Jody, you’ve been the rock here, so thank you for being that rock.”
Governor Lincoln Chafee, along with Mayor Scott Avedisian, agreed.
“If there’s anybody more tenacious than Jody King, I don’t know who they are,” Chafee said. “This is a day of healing on a beautiful fall morning, with the colors turning on the trees. Almost 10 years have passed since that horrific and tragic event, one of the worst in Rhode Island’s long history, and this is a good ceremony to come together.”
Chafee and Avedisian praised Carcieri’s efforts, as well, with Avedisian saying, “He led us through some very difficult times.”
Carcieri, humbled by those words, continued by noting the attendance of the Warwick City Council members, state officials, as well as Peter Ginaitt, an EMT who was also a State Representative at the time of the fire, was one of the first on the scene that evening to help individuals in need. Carcieri also commended firefighters, law enforcement and medical staff who rescued people and cared for the wounded.
Additionally, he spoke of how the fire impacted everyone, including himself.
“None of us can forget the absolutely horrific images of that night and the gut-wrenching pain and suffering of the days, weeks and months that followed,” he said. “The fact is, four months from now it’s going to be the 10th anniversary of that terrible night and it’s hard to believe. After 10 years, that suffering continues for those of us that were so deeply impacted.”
To pay respect, Reverend Robert Marciano, pastor at St. Kevin Parish, gave the invocation. Stephanie Johnson, 17, a Pilgrim High School senior, sang “Amazing Grace,” and led the assembly in singing “God Bless America” at the close of the ceremony.
Seth Adam Perlmutter of the Warwick Station Nightclub Memorial Foundation read the names of the 10 Warwick Victims. He was followed by nine firefighters, under the leadership of Chief Ed Armstrong, who each read 10 names of the 90 other fire victims.
For the families of those who lost their lives, the event, as well as the monument, which was planned and erected within 29 days, provided a sense of peace, comfort and solace.
Among them was Bonnie Hoisington of Warwick, whose daughter Abbie Hoisington perished. At the time of the fire, they resided in Cranston. Abbie, a special education teacher at Burrillville High School, was just 28-years-old.
“I’m so happy,” Bonnie said of the memorial. “It’s beyond my expectations. They did a wonderful job.”
She said she intends to visit the memorial often.
“We were here before it was finished, checking it out and I thought it was nice, but it’s even nicer from what I envisioned,” Hoisington said.
Nancy Crisostomi of Cranston feels the same. Her son, Alfred “Freddy” Crisostomi, an avid sports fan, was 38 when he passed.
“It’s sad but it’s a beautiful feeling and it was a beautiful ceremony,” said Crisostomi. Towards the conclusion of the ceremony, she kissed a granite tablet with the etchings and names of the Warwick victims. “I came here and found some peace. It’s really a comfort. God gave us this beautiful day with sunshine – the day turned out perfect. I thank God for the wonderful 38 years He gave to me. I cherished everyday with my son and I dream of him every night.”
Seeing other people who lost their loved ones in the fire, said Crisostomi, helps ease the pain.
“They understand your feelings,” she said. “Other people say, ‘I know how you feel,’ but they don’t unless they’ve walked in my shoes.”
Diane Mattera lost her daughter, Tammy Mattera-Housa, a 29-year-old personal trainer, in the blaze. She, too, feels solace in the memorial.
“It’s fantastic that we have this,” she said. “I’m very happy that the site in West Warwick is finally ours and that we will be able to develop it.”
Evelyn King, Tracy’s wife, attended the ceremony and agreed that it was “absolutely beautiful.” She said memories of her husband would live on forever.
“Everyday was an adventure with him,” she said. “He lived more in his 39 years than most people do in their entire life.”
Jody was also one of the people who rejoiced. Before speaking, he leapt into the air and hollered, “Woo hoo!”
With his trusty German Shepherd puppy, Nosmo, by his side, Jody addressed the crowd as the sun peaked through a clearing sky.
“God gives us a little sun for a good morning,” he said.
He also acknowledged everyone who helped make the project possible, including Avedisian, as well as Jody’s wife, Liana.
“Without her, I probably would not be here today,” he said. “She has transformed me into the man I am now. And I just want to say ‘I love you.’”
Jody thanked Harvey Wagner, the architect that worked on the monument. When Wagner approached the podium, he said he was thrilled to be associated with the project, as everyone pitched in to bring something positive to the community.
“I have been honored and humbled by being a part of this wonderful project,” he said. “I can’t put words to it.”
Wagner said the erection of the memorial was a group effort that brought together strangers. It also renewed friendships, as Project Manager Scott Small of the Department of Public Works was reunited with a buddy of the past.
“Strangers all came together, from different backgrounds, ethnic groups, religions, for a common goal and put this together,” Wagner said. “I am in awe. I liken this project to baking a cake. Jody came up with the menu, I was able to come up with the recipe, the ingredients were all donated, and the workers baked the cake. [Anthony Sciolto, Sr. and his son and Tony Sciolto, Jr.] put the icing on the cake.”
Jody shared his sentiments, noting that there isn’t an “I” in team, but there is a “We” in teamwork. From Avedisian to Small, other DPW workers, as well as members of the community, he will be forever grateful to their hard work.
“This beautiful park is a shining example of what can be accomplished when people put aside their individual needs and work together as a supportive community, which Warwick is,” said Jody. “I’ve never seen a more supportive community than the city I was born in, the city I grew up in – Warwick – it is the place to be.”
Before the ceremony ended and people were invited to place a bouquet of mums beside each brick engraved with the names of the victims, Jody shared a story that has helped comfort him. As a commercial shell fisherman, he came across a lesson from the ocean involving an oyster.
Holding a gold necklace with a single pearl attached, which he borrowed from his aunt and uncle, he told the tale of how pearls are formed in oysters.
While a grain of sand finds it’s way into the delicate inside of an oyster, it causes the oyster great pain and discomfort. Nevertheless, the oyster must find a way to deal with the strife. To do so, the oyster surrounds the grain of sand with nectar, insulating itself from the pain and suffering. In time, the grain of sand transforms into a pearl, an object of great beauty.
“It is my hope, that like an oyster, we have been able to surround our memories and turn them into something beautiful – cherished memories of the ones we lost,” Jody said. “It is my hope, wish and dream that this memorial park will help all of us to transform the suffering, pain and discomfort to a thing of beauty. So, like an oyster, we continue to grow and move on while keeping the beautiful pearl of memories of our loved ones lost with us. We have 100 perfect angles upstairs watching us each and every moment.”
Jody also helped unveil the tablet bearing the faces and names of the Warwick victims. They are Kevin P. Anderson; Tina Maria Ayer; Alfred C. Crisostomi; Michael J. Gonsalves, Skott C. Greene; Tracy F. King; Michael J. Kulz; Tammy Mattera-Housa; and Rebecca E. Shaw. At the request of her family, Bonnie L. Hamelin’s face and name does not appear on the tablet. Instead, a heart was substituted in its place.
Further, Jody revealed donated railings leading from the sidewalk to the memorial, which feature butterflies, dragonflies and doves.
“I love the railings,” said Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson. “They are beautiful.”
“They are unbelievable,” he said. “It is my hope that this memorial serves as a stepping stone to the main memorial in West Warwick to help us all to never forget and to heal.”
The site of the fire is located at 211 Cowesett Avenue in West Warwick.