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Park memorializes fire that killed 100 at Station nightclub

Stone markers throughout the park identify each deceased victim with their name, date of birth, and picture.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

WEST WARWICK, R.I. — Scotty Dunbar was torn about showing up at Sunday’s dedication of a long-awaited memorial on the site of the Station nightclub fire, where 100 concertgoers perished 14 years ago.

The 38-year-old vocalist from Woburn lost two friends in the fire, and he survived only by diving through a window, slicing his body with shards of glass. He wasn’t certain whether he wanted to revisit the experience in such a public way.

But surrounded by family, friends, and other survivors, Dunbar said he was glad he came instead of putting off the visit to a more quiet day.


“This is definitely amazing,” he said, standing feet from a stone memorial memorializing one of his friends, Derek Gray, of Dracut. He said he’ll never forget the bond they shared. “Our love for hard rock music brought us here.”

Hundreds of survivors, family members, elected officials, and supporters turned out for the dedication of the memorial park for the nation’s fourth-deadliest nightclub fire, which injured an additional 230 people.

The dedication began on a festive note, as a band played rock music under a mostly sunny sky, but it then struck a more somber tone as the official ceremony unfolded.

“This park is a gift to you — the families,” said former Rhode Island governor Donald Carcieri. “May God bless you, may this memorial forever honor your loved ones.”

The memorial park featured a stone stage that has been erected in the area where the original stage was.

Individual stone markers throughout the park identify each deceased victim with their name, date of birth, and picture.

The main stone gateway is intended to resemble the neck of a guitar.

Gina Russo, who lost her fiancé in the fire and suffered burns over 40 percent of her body, led the effort to raise $2 million for the memorial and its upkeep.


“I know our angels are shining down on us today,” Russo, who is president of the Station Fire Memorial Foundation, said during the ceremony.

Russo shared the story of her struggle to overcome her injuries and pain, saying, “I thought this fire would sink me.”

Fire survivors Gina Russo (left) and Joe Kinan hugged after the service.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The fire tore through the Station shortly after 11 p.m. on Feb. 20, 2003, when a tour manager for the band Great White lit a pyrotechnic display that ignited foam insulation lining the walls and ceilings of the stage.

Within minutes, flames shot through the one-story wooden building, trapping many inside.

The building lacked sprinklers, setting off a national movement to tighten fire-safety rules.

But some family members and friends at the ceremony said they feared the memory of the fire was slipping away from the public conscience, making it more difficult to build support for further potentially life-saving regulations.

Al Gray, 67, of Dracut, who lost his 22-year-old son, Derek Gray, in the fire, said, “I really believe a lot of people in Mass. forgot about this.”

Gray never will. His son was expecting a daughter when he died, and he left behind a fiancé. Derek Gray went to the Station that night with Dunbar and Eugene “Geno” Avilez, who also died.

The elder Gray, who spent his career in fire safety, made it his mission to lobby for tighter fire rules, proudly noting that Massachusetts passed legislation before Rhode Island did after the Station fire.


But he remains concerned that not enough is being done to equip homes with sprinklers.

“It’s been a long road for everyone,” Gray said.

Warren Laurent, 40, of Charlestown. R.I., and Jeff Goodwin, 47, of Warwick, R.I., attended the ceremony to honor many of their friends and acquaintances. The two were not there at the time of the fire, but said they could have been.

“I didn’t eat for weeks,” Goodwin said. “Every morning I would read the list of names in the paper, and there were so many people I knew.”

Near the close of the ceremony, as organizers read the name of each victim who died, a middle school student standing next to that person’s stone marker raised a single red rose into the air.

Middle school students held roses during the service.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.