WEST WARWICK, R.I. (AP) – Survivors of a 2003 nightclub fire and relatives of the 100 people who died in the blaze gathered at the site of the fire Sunday for an annual memorial service.

The service included a recitation of the victims’ names as well as music and 100 seconds of silence.

The Feb. 20, 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick began when pyrotechnics used by the 1980s rock band Great White ignited cheap packaging foam used as soundproofing on the building’s walls and ceiling. Besides the 100 killed, more than 200 others were injured. Massachusetts residents were among the victims, some of whom were treated at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Honoring lost loved ones

Linda and Ben Suffoletto died in the fire. Their niece, Veronica Rezendes attended the ceremony wearing a shirt with her aunt’s picture on it. She has attended every one of the annual remembrances and said they are important to those still grieving the loss of loved ones.

“It was a nice service, everybody coming together to remember,” Rezendes said.

Ken Fletcher of Coventry, whose stepdaughter Tracy Romanoff died in the fire, has also attended every ceremony.

“It’s something you’re never going to forget,” said Fletcher.

Some of those who have been coming each year said they were irked that the number of people attending the ceremony is shrinking.

Dwindling attention

Jane Sylvester, whose son Jason died in the fire, said she wished more people had come to show their respects, especially some of the political figures who attended the first remembrance.

“They don’t show up for any of these ceremonies,” she said.

The band’s tour manager, Daniel Biechele, served less than half of a four-year prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter; the club’s two owners, Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, pleaded no contest to the same charges for illegally installing the soundproofing foam.

Michael Derderian will be released on parole later this year, but his brother was spared jail time.

The anniversary comes as survivors and victims’ relatives await their shares of a $176 million settlement reached with dozens of people and companies sued after the fire. Survivors who were the most severely burned stand to receive the largest payouts.

Their lawyers won’t say how much individual clients will receive, but expect the range of payments to be from roughly $20,000 to several million dollars.

The settlement money, which is being distributed according to a point system developed by a Duke University law professor, is not expected to be doled out for several months.

The roadside lot where the club once stood is now dotted with crosses and other personal mementos. A permanent memorial with a garden and park is planned for the site, but work has been delayed because the land has been tied up in the lawsuits over the fire.

Some who stopped to pay their respects on Sunday said they didn’t lose anyone, but wanted to support the relatives and friends of those who did – as well as victims who made it out alive that night.

“It really touched me,” said Jean Gardiner of West Warwick, who said she was just driving by and felt the need to stop. “Even if you don’t know anybody in the fire, you’re still effected and you never forget it. I just wanted to pay my respects even though I didn’t know anybody.”


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