Early in the day, they arrived at the charred remains of the West Warwick, R.I., nightclub, pressing against the police tape, begging the firefighters for shreds of information.
Throughout the afternoon, they called, faxed, e-mailed, and visited a dozen area hospitals, offering photographs and descriptions to doctors trying to identify the sometimes unrecognizable victims.
But by evening, many family and friends of concertgoers were losing hope that their loved ones might have survived the inferno that destroyed The Station just as the headline act, Great White, was finishing its first song.
The missing were people like Robert Croteau, a 31-year-old Great White devotee, who enthusiastically followed the band from gig to gig and who proudly had the band’s logo, a shark, tattooed into his left shoulder. Croteau’s family members fanned out to area hospitals, hoping against hope that he had survived.
There was the band’s 28-year-old guitarist, Ty Longley, who has not been seen since the ill-fated opening song. His website was updated yesterday morning with a plaintive appeal from his friends, “Come Home, Ty!”
And then there was Michael Gonsalves, a 40-year-old Providence disc jockey known as “The Doctor,” who claimed to be the host of the country’s longest-running heavy metal show, and who introduced Great White on Thursday. Six employees of WHJY-FM in Providence attended. Five came out alive, but Gonsalves remained missing.
“We’re frustrated and we’re broken-hearted, and we’re just hoping he’s still alive,” said Bud Paras, WHJY’s general manager.
Hospitals were deluged by family members trying to locate the missing. At Massachusetts General Hospital, which was treating about a dozen victims, family members looking tired and scared paced the hospital lobby, while others talked in hushed tones to medical officials.
“My heart really goes out to the families who have a relative who they think was involved in this fire,” said MGH’s Dr. Alasdair Conn.
“They have no idea where they are.”
Barbara Kulz of Warwick, R.I., said she was sure her 30-year-old son, Michael, was at the Great White show because she spotted him in video from the concert that was shown on television. Kulz said she and her husband have notified the Red Cross that Michael is among the missing, and they are frantically calling anyone who might be able to help find him.
“So many were lost in that fire, and so much time has gone by and most of [the injured] have been identified,” she said. “With so much time, we really don’t have any hope. I know he was in the fire - that’s definite. His friend wound up in the hospital. We’re hoping for a miracle.”
Last night, Michael’s father, George, e-mailed a photograph of his son to Mass. General, where there was still one unidentified male survivor. After that, he planned to stay home and wait - he said there was nothing left to do.
“Him and I used to go to breakfast on Saturday morning,” Kulz said. “It’s going to hurt.”
For several hours yesterday, Patricia Belanger tearfully toted a picture of her 30-year-old daughter, Dina Demaio of West Warwick, to area hospitals. A legal assistant during the day, Demaio had been waitressing at The Station for several months to earn extra money as she raised her 7-year-old son.
Demaio normally waited tables on weekends, “but because of the concert they asked her to go in [Thursday],” said her sister, Kristy Garvey.
When Demaio didn’t come home yesterday, Belanger drove to the club and found her daughter’s car outside the charred building. Later that afternoon, Belanger drove to Mass. General hoping that one of the victims who had not been claimed by family members might be her daughter.
“She’s not on any list that’s out there,” Belanger said.
Meanwhile, family members struggled with what to tell Demaio’s young boy.
“If he asks any questions, we’re just telling him she’s sick right now,” Garvey said.
Many of the victims, according to hospital officials, ranged in age from their late teens to their late 30s. Most had one thing in common - their fondness for Great White, a metal band that debuted in 1982 and is best known for its Grammy-nominated 1989 hit, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.”
The audience included men like Kevin R. Washburn, 30, and Michael Stefani, avid fans and best friends planning to move in together. Stefani, of North Kings town, R.I., had seen Great White at least six times before.
Inside the club, the two split up. When Stefani emerged from the men’s room, he watched the flames in horror. Unable to find Washburn, a forklift driver from Franklin, Mass., Stefani fled out a back door and then ran to the front where he tried to help pull people out.
“I pulled one guy out. That’s it,” Stefani said.
Washburn was nowhere to be seen.
Among the missing were some of the people who helped organize and promote the show.
Gonsalves, a New York City native and a longtime fan of heavy metal, began his career while at Rhode Island College working at the school’s radio station.
“He was somebody who really loved what he was doing, and was just a good fellow,” said Gary Penfield, vice president for student affairs at Rhode Island College.
Longley was born in Sharon, Pa., and joined Great White in 2000. He began his career playing clubs in Sharon and is well-known in the small town, according to Sarah Adams, a news editor of The Herald, a local newspaper. According to his website, he loves rum and coke and pizza and jogs as a hobby.
Yesterday, Nicole Fusco of Coventry, R.I., arrived at the club looking for her uncle, Tom Medeiros of Coventry, a 40-year-old worker at Bradford Soap in West Warwick who took a day off to make the concert.
She said she learned from one of his co-workers that he went to the club with his girlfriend, Lori Durante of West Warwick. Neither of them had been heard from since.
Medeiros’s maroon pickup truck was still parked in the club parking lot.
“We checked all the hospitals and he isn’t on any of the lists,” Fusco said. “We haven’t heard anything.”
As the day wore on, family members grew ever more anxious. By last night they decided to gather for solace.
“He was a big fan of the band,” said Andrea Silva, Medeiros’s niece. “We’re just together now.”
Some families were frustrated by conflicting information. Relatives of Steve and Andrea Mancini of Johnston, R.I., were losing hope even as a friend said she had heard that the Mancinis had survived. With no certain word, family members faxed to Mass. General the couple’s wedding photo, taken just 15 months ago.
“The doctor on the phone said it doesn’t match the description,” said Dino Jacavone, one of Andrea’s 10 brothers and sisters.
“Some people said they saw them get out,” Jacavone said, his voice cracking. “But no one can find them. So we’re just waiting.”
The Mancinis worked the door at the club, he as a bouncer and she taking money; Steve, 39, also runs the fish department at a Stop & Shop in Providence, and Andrea, 28, helps direct her family’s garden center in Johnston.
Steve has a third occupation: guitarist for the band Fathead, which opened for Great White on Thursday night.