Work begins on memorial to victims of Rhode Island nightclub fire

Mourners have visited the site where The Station nightclub once stood in West Warwich, R.I., daily since 2003, when 100 people were killed in a pyrotechnics fire. On Wednesday, workers erected a fence around the site, so work on a memorial park may begin.

Gretchen Ertl/AP/File
A makeshift memorial at the former site of The Station nightclub on Feb. 20, 2004, marking the one-year anniversary of a fire that killed 100 people at the club in West Warwick, R.I. On Wednesday, work began on a permanent memorial park to mark the memories of the victims.

The initial stages of work began Wednesday at the site of a permanent memorial to the 100 people who died in a 2003 nightclub fire, as a crew erected a fence around the perimeter of where The Station nightclub once stood.

In the decade since the Feb. 20, 2003, fire, started by pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White, a makeshift memorial of homemade crosses, photographs, stuffed animals and other mementos of those who died has marked the site. Visitors come to the site daily to pay their respects, including family and friends of those who died, some of the more than 200 people injured and those who have no connection to the fire.

The fence will close the land until it is reopened as a permanent memorial park. The Station Fire Memorial Foundation, which is leading the project, estimates it will be completed next year.

On Wednesday, a handful of people with and without a connection to the fire stopped by to get a final look at the land as it is, and to mark the beginning of a new chapter.

Shawn Corbett, whose brother, Edward Bradley Corbett III, was killed, said that after the fire, he was so overcome with grief that he contemplated suicide. Another family member of a victim convinced him to come to the site. At first, he couldn't get out of his van. But ultimately he did, and he came almost every day.

He began to care for the site, picking up cigarette butts. Eventually, he became the site's de facto caretaker. He mowed the grass, righted crosses after they were knocked down by bad weather and generally took care of things. He has been a key member of the memorial foundation's board, and on Wednesday said once the memorial is built, "I'll be free."

"This property literally saved my life," he said. "I took all that negative and hatred and turned it into something positive."

Members of the foundation's board will visit the site again on Saturday to remove the crosses and other items that remain on the site. They will be buried in a time capsule at the memorial.

The foundation has approximately $170,000 in the bank but has said it hopes to raise $1 million or more to build and maintain the memorial in perpetuity. Much of the work and materials will be donated, including the 700 feet of fence being installed Wednesday, said Lisa Del Sesto, a member of the foundation's board and a fire survivor.

Del Sesto teared up several times Wednesday, and said she was glad people could now see that work was going forward.

"It's bittersweet. I'm happy that our dream is coming to fruition. But I am also a little sad," she said. "It blows me away. It's awesome. It's great that the community still cares."

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