Gina Russo, of Cranston, was burned over 40 percent of her body. She has had dozens of operations and expects they will continue for the rest of her life. She permanently lost her hair, and she found it difficult to look at herself in the mirror in the months after the fire. Her fiancé, Fred Crisostomi, was killed.
Several months after the fire, someone sent her the story of the phoenix, the mythical bird that is reborn from the ashes. It came at a time when, she says, she was just realizing she wanted to survive her ordeal. She realized that no matter what’s in her way, she wanted to rise above it.
Russo now leads The Station Fire Memorial Foundation, which is working to build a permanent memorial at the fire site. She said she believes Crisostomi’s optimism and lift about life was somehow living in her since the fire.
‘‘It completely changed my life in a positive way. I plan on taking full advantage of it,’’ she said.
Kane’s son, 18-year-old Nicholas O'Neill, was the youngest person to die. Kane has been a vocal critic of state and local authorities, the Derderians and how the prosecution was handled. He called then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch a buffoon on ‘‘Good Morning America.’’ Kane said it is disheartening that more than 230 people were killed in a nightclub in Brazil last month in a fire that had eerie similarities, including a band’s pyrotechnics igniting foam used as soundproofing.
But despite the anger that lingers, he thinks good can come from the fire.
Kane believes his son is still with him and gives him signs of his presence. He has let them know that he did not feel pain at the end, Kane said, and helped urge his father on as he wrote a statement of forgiveness he read at Biechele’s sentencing hearing. Kane speaks to audiences about his belief that Nick and all our dead loved ones are still with us.
‘‘We’re in a much better position than so many of the people who lost people. So many of the families, they’re devastated, they’re destroyed in so many ways,’’ he said. ‘‘One of the ways I am trying to help people is to tell the story.’’
At the fire site one recent afternoon, Nazar Butt stopped to pay his respects. He has made the same stop a few times, even though he knows no one who died here.
‘‘It could happen to anybody,’’ he said.
Survivors and victims’ relatives still tend to the land. After storms, they plow snow from the parking lot and right the crosses that dot the site, many of which are made out of floorboards salvaged from the club’s remains. The Station Fire Memorial Foundation in September secured the land for a permanent memorial after a yearslong effort.
The group will soon ask families to come remove any items they wish to keep. Then, they will gather up what’s left and surround the site with chain link fencing, and construction will start. The left-behind mementos will be entombed beneath what is now the parking lot. Workers will not dig on the site itself for fear of disturbing human remains.
When the memorial is finished in a year or two, people will be able to stop by and read about The Station fire on Feb. 20, 2003. One hundred years from now, people will still know what happened here.
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