WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — After years of planning, fundraising and construction, a permanent memorial to the victims of the Station Nightclub Fire is now open to the public.
In a ceremony Sunday afternoon, the memorial park was formally dedicated to the 100 people who lost their lives as a result of the fire on Feb. 20, 2003.
Loved ones of the victims, survivors, first responders, and local leaders were on hand at the Cowesett Avenue site. The one-acre park includes granite monuments with the names and birthdays of every victim. There’s also a courtyard, a commemorative walkway, and gardens.
“Being here today, at the site of our state’s worst tragedy, causes all the memories, all the emotions of that terrible night to wash back over us all again,” said former Gov. Don Carcieri. “The raw pain, sadness, and heartbreak of losing loved ones so unexpectedly lives with us always.”
The memorial is the result of the tireless efforts of the Station Fire Memorial Foundation, along with the more than $2 million and countless volunteer hours donated to the project. They hoped to not only create a monument to honor those who died, but also a place for those affected by the fire to pray and reflect.
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“My hope and my prayer is that this memorial can be a place of comfort and remembrance and healing, and I hope it can give you peace,” said Gov. Gina Raimondo. “I hope it can be a sanctuary that honors the memories you built with the loved ones you lost.”
“We stand here today, some 14 years later, basking in the sunshine sent to us, I’m sure, by 100 angels above us and watching it all, on a ground made holy by them, those who perished here,” said Fr. Robert Marciano. “We remember their good souls, their happy faces, now etched into the granite of this monument but more importantly, forever etched into our hearts and into our lives.”
Fr. Marciano, Warwick’s police and fire chaplain, also gave a heartfelt thanks to his fellow first responders who put their lives at risk on that cold February night.
Congressman Jim Langevin spoke about how each and every Rhode Islander was affected by the tragedy in some way, noting that he himself lost a distant cousin and his mom’s neighbor narrowly escaped.
“We all seemed to be impacted or know someone,” he said. “It was so personal, because this is Rhode Island.”
“Life is short and we have never too much time to gladden the hearts of those who journey with us,” added U.S. Sen. Jack Reed. “Be swift to love and make haste to be kind.”
Following the speeches, the names of all the victims were read aloud.
Joe Silva performed his song “97 Angels,” which he wrote and recorded in the days following the fire, also acknowledging the three additional people who have since perished.
Local performer Billy Gilman also took the stage to perform “There’s a Hero.”