PHOTOS AND VIDEO
Two weeks before graduation, Boston University senior Binland Lee was killed in a fire in her Allston apartment. The exact cause of the blaze that consumed the house remains in dispute. The Boston Fire Department found the case was unintentional careless disposal of smoking materials, but the residents deny that anyone smoked in the house the night before the fire. A Spotlight Team reconstruction of that terrifying morning, drawing on hundreds of documents and dozens of interviews, revealed persistent problems at 87 Linden and the failure of key players to do much about them.
Binland, a 22-year-old Brooklyn native, had moved off campus for the first time her senior year. The marine science major had a quirky constellation of friends — the freshman year gang, science geeks, Brooklyn pals, first-generation Chinese students, and MIT frat boys. She had an endless curiosity and enjoyed sharing her passions, particularly for cuttlefish, known as the chameleons of the sea because of their ability to change their skin color and pattern. They were kind of like Binland, who was always seeking new adventures and could fit in anywhere — traits that drew others to her. This gallery features Binland’s own photographs and letters and pictures taken by friends and family.
Above: A self-portrait that Binland submitted for a photography class at Boston University with professor Joe Lippincott. This is the caption she wrote for the assignment:
Binland Lee, 21, is a Boston University undergraduate student studying marine science. Lee is from Brooklyn, NY where she grew up fishing and exploring beaches with her uncle. The two photographs were taken on Saturday, October 27, 2012 at 2:20 P.M, in the shower of her home at 87 Linden Street, Allston, Mass. During the fall semester of 2012, Lee spent three weeks at the Wee Wee Caye Marine Lab in Belize snorkeling and collecting research data with other marine science students and professors. She has been scuba certified since 2009 and has logged eighteen hours of scuba diving in the Boston Harbor. She hopes to log more dive hours in the future when she goes on to graduate school to do environmental research. Lee is finishing her fourth year of school this year and is graduating in May 2013.
Above: A photo of Binland taken by her mom, Xu Mei Kwong, outside of 87 Linden St. in October 2012.
Binland had moved off campus for the first time her senior year.
“She said she wanted to go off campus to save money for graduate school,” Mei said. “And she wanted independence.”
(Clockwise from top left) Housemates Nick Moore, Thiérry Désiré, Alex Mark, Avaloi Atkinson, and Binland Lee, in the living room of their apartment at 87 Linden St. a week before the fire in April 2013.
“We had just started getting close,” said Alex, who moved in for the spring semester. “We had bonded because of the Boston bombing a little bit before that because me and Binland, we were the only two home during the lockdown.”
(From top, left to right) Binland Lee, Becca Lauzon, Karen Law, Cara Bornstein, Joanna Grunin, Liz King, Noelle Olsen, and Liz Burmester in Belize in November 2011 during a trip with marine science students from Boston University.
“I met Binland in a chemistry lab. It was funny. I was just standing by myself at a lab table on the first day. And this fierce little girl from Brooklyn comes up to me and says ‘We’re going to be lab partners,’” Liz said. “She always introduced herself the same way: ‘Hi, I’m Binland. Like Finland with a B.’”
Binland fell in love with hammocks during her trip in Belize and later bought one to hang in her attic bedroom at 87 Linden St.
“It was so nice. People would go up there and lay in the hammock and chat with her. People would spill problems,” her housemate Erica Ross said. “Everyone would go there to relax.”
(Left to right) Friends Kimberly Chen, Molly McCarger, Noelle Olsen, Cait McAndrews, Binland Lee, and Erica Ross in the living room at 87 Linden as they celebrated Noelle and Cait’s birthday in December 2012 shortly before Noelle left to study in Ecuador. “The last serious conversation I had with Binland was because I was very upset before Noelle was leaving. Binland was just reassuring me how everything would be so okay,” Cait said. “She knew what I needed to hear. She knew. She always knew.”
Binland taped this photo from Belize on her housemate Noelle’s door in December 2012 before Noelle moved out of 87 Linden St.
“We stayed in cabins of four with two bunk beds,” Noelle said. “There was no electricity or running water. Binland had such long flowy hair and aviator glasses and everyone else was bug bitten and frazzled.”
Video courtesy of Erica Ross
Erica Ross took a video of Binland to help their friend Cait McAndrews make a video collage for Noelle while she was in Ecuador.
Binland and her friend Roneil Smith took a glamorous selfie in 2010 before BU’s annual Moonlight Ball. “She loved to get dressed up for events,” Roneil said.
Binland’s uncles bought her a camera as an early graduation present before she started her senior year for the upcoming photography classes she was excited to take.
“We love seeing her photos and it looked like she was on her way to becoming a pro,” her uncle Da Ren Kwong said.
Binland kept in touch over the years with childhood friends like Alaina Blay. This is the envelope and letter Binland Lee sent to Alaina when she moved from New York to Florida. A few weeks before the fire, Alaina and Binland talked about living together in Brooklyn after they graduated.
Above, the letter from Binland to Alaina. “We met in fifth grade. We just clicked immediately,” Alaina said. We were best friends, always laughing. We ended up having our seats moved away because we were always talking and always laughing.”
Binland, a toddler here, was photographed with her mother at a friend’s wedding.
“She called me every day before class or after class and if she have time at night. Sometimes four or five times on the weekend,” Mei said. “If she has five minutes or 10 minutes, she will call me and she say, ‘I miss you.’”
Binland and her mother at Binland’s graduation from Brooklyn Technical High School.
(Left to right) Steven Bakovic, Binland, and her boyfriend, Elbert Kim, at the BU Hawaiian Luau during her senior year of college in March 2013.
“She was sad because this was going to be the last luau,” Bakovic said. “We said, ‘No let’s just go to Hawaii.’ We kind of jokingly planned for a trip to Hawaii.”
Several weeks after the fire, Binland’s freshman year roommate Amanda Calderon put a photo of Binland on her BU graduation cap next to a picture of the Virgin Mary and a verse from the Bible.
“After she died I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Amanda said. “I was thinking about things that were important to me — materials that I had and could put on the cap.”
(Clockwise from top left: Liz King, Erica Ross, Delacia Davis, and Noelle Olsen)
Binland’s friends got tattoos of cuttlefish and an octopus in her honor.
“I got a cuttlefish on the left side of my rib with a scuba mask and slippers. It has her initials on it,” Delacia Davis said. “It’s my second tattoo. Binland was with me when I got the first tattoo.”
Binland and her boyfriend Elbert at BU’s Back Bay Ball in February 2013. Elbert had planned to spend the summer in Boston with Binland after graduating last May. “I couldn’t take it. We had all these plans for the summer time to go to the beach. She was going to work in the city and do research. We were going to live up the summer before we had to part ways. It was too hard.”
Binland Lee’s family and friends returned to 87 Linden St. in Allston on the one-year anniversary of the fire. They set up an elaborate memorial with candles, hazelnut chocolates, and dozens of flowers surrounding three framed photos of Binland.
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