JOHNSTON, RI (WPRI) – Nick O’Neill would’ve just turned 31.
But on an ice cold February 20th, 13 years ago, he followed one of his passions – rock and roll music – into The Station Nightclub in West Warwick.
His father Dave Kane recalls dropping him off and even asking him to be careful.
Video recorded from the stage would later show young Nick in the front row. The teen who friends and family remember as a dreamer, a rocker, and playwright, looked right at the camera, with his hands in the air.
His family made sure the play he wrote about teenagers who die young, but return as angels made it onto the stage, and later on video. It’s called They Walk Among Us, and Nick’s dad and family like to live by the final words.
“In the end everything, and I do mean everything – will be just fine,” Kane said. “Nicky wrote that.”
His family misses him as much as ever, but they’re not shy to say they feel his presence. The reminders are constant, according to Kane. Often, they involve a certain number, as reflected in his book, 41 Signs of Hope.
And they see him in a picture taken shortly after he was among the 100 killed in the fire – a hazy image of what they believe is Nicky standing behind his mom.
“It’s him,” Kane said. “I have no doubt.”
Then, there was one of the several heated discussions between his dad and mom, Joanne O’Neill, concerning Nick’s last breath.
“She was worried that Nicky suffered in the blaze, that he felt the flames,” Kane said. “That he felt the pain. It drove her crazy.”
Clarity came during a drive after tagging a Christmas tree, something Kane says Nick loved to do.
“And I finally say to her, ‘what do you want this kid to do, put it in writing?'” Kane said. “And as soon as I said that, a car coming from the other direction had the vanity plate No Pain.”
Mediums had told Nick’s family several times that he felt “no pain”, but the chance meeting on a Lincoln road clinched it for Nick’s mom.
“It was shocking,” she said. “And then I just felt this sense of relief come over me.”
Kane offers dozens of other examples in a presentation to local groups as a fundraiser for the memorial. He admits there are plenty of doubters, but he adds, they, at least, listen.
“It’s one thing to tell a story, but when you can show people it opens them to the possibility that their loved ones are around them too,” he said.
So far, the Station Fire Memorial Foundation has raised about $1.6 million, less than half a million from the goal to build the memorial that could open as early as this fall.