Dozens of mourners packed into the quaint Chapel of the Immaculate Conception on Jan. 19 for a standing room only mass to pay tribute to the three students who tragically lost their lives in the Boland Hall fire 20 years ago.
The crowd, which was made up of Seton Hall University community members, first responders, survivors, families of the victim, and members of the local media huddled into the chapel to remember Aaron Karol, Frank Caltabilota and John Giunta, the three freshmen whose lives were tragically lost in an act of arson that shocked the conscience of the university and rattled a nation, sparking a conversation around fire safety in college dorm rooms.
Monsignor Anthony Ziccardi was the celebrant of the mass and gave the homily.
“It’s been 20 years and here we are again,” Ziccardi said, “There may be, I don’t know, those who think that perhaps it’s time to stop coming together to mark this day as different. To stop remembering what is, fundamentally, a very painful period of the past. But it would be quite ill-advised for us to let the event and our beloved dead slip from memory to the oblivion of forgetfulness.”
“We must not forget Frank, John and Aaron. For in doing so, we grow the risk of not meeting our ultimate goal or objective of eternal life,” Ziccardi closed, “Such forgetfulness and destruction you and I can ill afford. May our blessed memory can shape our hope and focus it on eternal life. May it help us to stay the course as Jesus’ disciples so that we may all be joined together one day at the abundant and festive table in God’s eternal kingdom.”
University President Dr. Joseph Nyre also participated in the mass, delivering the General Intercessions.
To end the mass, the father of Aaron Karol, Joseph Karol, delivered an emotional testimonial to the packed congregation as he has done for the past 20 years. Karol reflected on the life of his son and the other two young men, remembering each’s career ambitions for their future: John’s in medicine, Frank’s in teaching, and Aaron’s in law enforcement as an FBI profiler.
“Their dreams were cut short by the absolutely reckless actions of two cowards who showed no remorse for the deaths, injuries, and destruction they caused,” Karol said, referring to the two young men who started the fire, Sean Ryan and Joseph LePore who both served less than three years for the crime. “Sean Ryan and Joseph Lepore were given sweetheart plea deals, but they will someday face the ultimate judge.”
Ryan and LePore were initially charged with conspiracy to commit arson, first degree murder, and first-degree manslaughter in a 62-count indictment in 2003. But in 2006, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office cut a plea deal with the two which dismissed the murder charges against the former students. Lepore plead guilty to third-degree arson, third-degree tampering, a disorderly persons offense and resisting arrest, while Ryan plead guilty to third-degree arson and third-degree witness tampering. Ultimately, the two served less than three years in prison.
The mass ended with a procession from the chapel to the front of Boland Hall, where a wreath of white roses was laid in front of the Remembrance Stone surrounded by electric candles. The procession was led by Captain Michael deLutio of the New Brunswick Fire Department and his daughter Gina, who is currently a freshman at Seton Hall.
As the bells of the chapel rung in the background, Monsignor Ziccardi delivered a short prayer, followed by several minutes of silence.
“Fill us with hope and motivate us to live with faith and love in order that our present memories of Frank John and Aaron may one day give way to the vision of their blessedness and to our company with them in your eternal kingdom,” Ziccardi said. “We pray through Christ our Lord. Let us go in peace.”
Nicholas Kerr can be reached at email@example.com Find him on twitter @nickkerr99.
Dan O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.