WEST WARWICK, R.I. — Relatives and friends of the 100 people killed in a nightclub fire in Rhode Island marked the 10th anniversary of the blaze Wednesday, gathering at the empty lot where their loved ones perished, now dotted by more than 100 handmade crosses.
The Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station in West Warwick broke out when pyrotechnics for the 1980s hard rock band Great White ignited flammable foam that had been installed as soundproofing. More than 200 people were injured.
"You cry, you smile, you cry some more," said Maria Alves, whose 33-year-old son Louis died in the fire.
The Lincoln woman and her husband Luis came to the site Wednesday to mark the anniversary and tidy up the makeshift memorial they built to honor their son.
"Everybody loved my son. This is just another day. I miss him every day."
"Every minute," Luis added. "Every second."
Jessica Garvey has spent every Feb. 20 since the fire at the site where her sister Dina DeMaio died. DeMaio was a waitress at the club and died while working on her 30th birthday.
"Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday," said Garvey, 32, of Woonsocket. "She's forever 30. I wouldn't be anywhere else today."
Survivors and families who lost a loved one marked the anniversary in a variety of ways, with some gathering together at the site to share hugs and stories. Some planned to take the day off work to be with families. One family who lost a son in the fire planned a trip to New Hampshire, one of his favorite destinations.
Others with no immediate connection to the fire stopped by the site Wednesday to honor those lost. Travis Clark drove 45 minutes from his home in Uxbridge, Mass., to quietly walk around the site. The 26-year-old's girlfriend lives in West Warwick and he said he often thinks about the fire when he drives by the site.
"It puts things in life in perspective," he said. "Hopefully people will remember, and something can be learned from this."
A foundation working to build a permanent memorial at the site held a ceremonial groundbreaking Sunday. Construction is expected to start this spring. Plans call for a 30-foot-high entrance topped by an Aeolian harp that will produce music when wind passes through. The site will also have individual memorials for each victim, a pavilion and a buried capsule containing some of the makeshift memorials that have been left at the site.
Three men faced criminal charges stemming from the fire.
Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele – who set off the pyrotechnics without a permit – pleaded guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter and served less than two years in prison. Club owners Michael and Jeffrey Derderian pleaded no contest to the same charges; Michael Derderian served less than three years in prison and Jeffrey Derderian was sentenced to community service.
Later, lawsuits brought by families of the dead and the injured were settled for $176 million.