Boland Hall tragedy
Jan. 19 marked the 10th anniversary of the Boland Hall fire that claimed three lives, injured 58 others and forever changed the Seton Hall community.
Three freshmen, Aaron Karol, Frank Caltabilota Jr. and John Giunta, were killed in the fire that began on the third floor of Boland Hall. Numerous others were injured in the fire, including Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos, who were severely burned.
On Jan. 19, 2000, freshmen and third-floor Boland Hall residents, Sean Ryan and Joseph LePore, set fire to a large sheet of paper on a lounge sofa on the third-floor. Ryan and LePore were inebriated at the time they set the fire. The lounge sofa caught fire and quickly spread, killing Karol, Caltabilota and Giunta.
Three years later, in 2003, Ryan and LePore were indicted on counts of felony murder, assault, manslaughter and arson. Both originally plead not-guilty. They were each sentenced to five years in prison for the arson charge in January 2007.
In May 2009, Ryan was released on parole after serving two years and four months out of his five-year sentence. LePore, who waived his right to parole in November, was also released from prison late last year.
Changes after the Fire
Tara Hart, director of Housing and Residence Life, is the sole remaining member of the HRL staff from the time of the fire.
According to Hart, Msgr. Sheeran moved into Boland Hall in the spring semester of 2000.
Msgr. Sheeran was out of town and unable to be reached for comment.
Hart said that Seton Hall was in compliance with fire codes at the time, which were radically changed across the country because of the fire.
The NJ Senate approved a bill in 2000 that required that all dormitory rooms have sprinklers.
Hart said that Seton Hall now goes “above and beyond required measures,” citing that the lounge furnishings are treated in Cal-Tech Bulletin 133 to prevent and reduce flammability, while a lesser standard federal law only requires Cal-Tech 117.
In addition, the way the HRL student staff was asked to respond to fires was changed.
“Dana Christmas, an RA at the time, was severely burned because she stayed to help others. The protocol changed. Now their job is to help train students before.”
Mike Thunell, a senior Resident Advisor in Aquinas Hall, said, “The reason why we’re one of the safest schools in the nation is because of the death of three students.”
According to Hart, in 2001, the bell tower outside Jubilee Hall was donated by a then-executive and dedicated to the three victims of the fire. Their names are on a plaque on the bell tower.
“I hear the bells ring and everyday I think of what happened that day,” Hart said.
Thunell also mentioned the bell tower is a part of the history which some students may not realize.
“Not a lot of people realize that the bells that ring were dedicated to the students,” Thunell said. “I feel like a lot of people complain or find it annoying, but they don’t understand the purpose but a better understanding of the past will help appreciate the things that Seton Hall does for their students.”
HRL ran a “Remembrance Display” in the Main Lounge on Tues, Jan. 19.
“As a SHU alumni and current administrator, I felt that it was really important to educate the current student body of what happened on that day, considering that many students are not aware of the fire, or what transpired from it,” Karoline Stankiewicz, residence coordinator of Aquinas Hall, said in an e-mail interview. Hart said that around 200 people came in through the course of the day to view the display.
The annual Vigil outside Boland Hall in the Remembrance circle was also held on Monday, Jan. 18. A memorial Mass, called the Mass of Remembrance and Hope, was held on Jan. 19 in the Chapel. Msgr. Sheeran served as the principal celebrant and homilist.
Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos, freshmen living on the third floor of Boland Hall at the time, were severely burned in the fire. Their recovery at Saint Barnabas Hospital was chronicled by Star-Ledger journalist Robin Gaby Fisher in the seven-part “After the Fire” series. The series was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. It was expanded and published as a book with the same title in 2008.
Simons graduated from Seton Hall in 2004 and is a videographer at the Star-Ledger. Simons and Llanos are also promoting “After the Fire.”
“We’re speaking at colleges to tell people about our deal and how to recover from such a traumatic incident,” Simons said in a telephone interview.
Simons attended the memorial Mass on Jan. 19.
“It was good to have a reflection and see people we went through this traumatic event with and the parents of those that passed away,” Simons said.
Simons described seeing the parents of the victims as being “very emotional.”
“Looking at them, what words do you say to them?” Simons said. “It was tough to see the families of the victims. They don’t have their loved ones to hold and embrace like our parents do, the ones who were seriously injured.”
Brittany Biesiada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.