Rhode Island tragedy hits home for writer

By on February 27, 2003

WhenThey were a 1980’s heavy metal hair band, “Once bitten, Twice Shy” was Great White’s only hit. They won a Grammy in 1990, but faded rapidly into obscurity. To make up for what they lacked, they used pyrotechnics at their concerts. Flash pots and sparklers were common sights on stage. On Thursday night, they opened their show at the Station, in West Warwick, RI with a barrage of sparklers, one in front of the drum kit at the center of the stage, and one on each side of the stage. Jack Russell the lead singer wailed into the microphone and the crowd roared back with excitement.

Within seconds, the ceiling above the flash pots on the sides of the stage had caught fire. People stared and continued cheering; they thought it was all just a part of the show. Seconds later, the ceiling was engulfed with flames and the fire alarm went off. Everyone ran for the front door they came in. Of the 340 people who were inside, 97 never make it out. Most died in front entrance. Some were found trampled to death, others burned alive, and still others choked to death on the thick black smoke, their bodies just a few feet away from the exit.

This week has been unconscionably difficult. On Friday, I woke up to the news. Initially they said thirty-nine people had died. As the hours grew longer so too did the list of victims. My heart sank because I knew, as the list grew longer, the likelier it was a friend, neighbor, or relative would be on the list. You see Rhode Island is small state, just over a million people, and everybody knows everybody else.

When we moved from Massachusetts to Rhode Island it was like moving to an entirely different world. The moving van only drove for about forty minutes, but it seemed to travel through time and space to this strange new world. Every time we walked into a restaurant, everyone turned and looked to see who it was. At first, we thought this odd but after short time, I found myself doing the same thing. The reason is there is a one in two chance you know the person. It’s a Rhode Island thing.

Being a Rhode Islander is more than a postal code or an area code. It is a citizenship, which ties all Rhode Islanders to each other. Living there creates an eternal bond that cannot be broken even by moving away. I was not born in Rhode Island but for the rest of my life, like it or not, I will be a Rhode Islander. Because of this, the magnitude of the tragedy at the Station is unexplainable. For the smallest state in the Union to loose 97 people creates an enormous hole in all of our hearts.

My heart breaks for all of Rhode Island, but my soul cries out for Leigh Ann Moreau. I was in homeroom with Leigh for all of high school. She was a talented artist and a great singer. On the Saturday following the fire, I learned she had been at the concert. She was missing. For two days, I held on to the hope she was one of two Jane Does at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. On Monday, hope crumpled into horror when I learned she was not. I miss you Leigh. The depths of my soul ache. All of Rhode Island mourns for the 97 victims. Rest in peace friend.


About Eric Marrapodi