It has been seven years since fire tore through the Station nightclub in West Warwick, killing 100 people and scarring thousands more. And still, the story unwinds. There are the legal wranglings and financial settlements, of course, but there are more human tales, too.
The most recent: a self-published book by survivor Gina Russo, co-written with Paul Lonardo, From the Ashes: Surviving the Station Nightclub Fire, A Personal Story of tragedy and Triumph.
In the months leading up to the fire, Russo was dating Fred Crisostomi, a Navy veteran and inveterate optimist who owned his own painting company. And on the night he would lose his life, Crisostomi showed up at the Russo homestead for the traditional Thursday night pasta dinner, a sprawling affair that could attract 15 to 20 people.
It had snowed recently and Crisostomi paused outside to start a snowball fight with Russo's two sons from a previous marriage. A neighbor waved at Fred and asked how he was doing. "What a great day to be alive," he said.
After dinner, the pair tried to catch a movie but showed up too late. Trolling the Internet, Fred suggested the couple head out to the Station to see the Great White show. Gina hesitated. She wasn't a particularly big fan of the band. But Crisostomi grew increasingly excited about the possibility. She couldn't resist that energy
Fred recognized there was something awry before most. Grabbing Russo by the shoulders, he led her to an exit next to the stage, but a bouncer turned them away. "This door is for the band only," he said. "Club policy."
The couple turned to make their way toward the front door. Soon there was smoke and darkness and panic. Russo writes that she can still hear Crisostomi yelling "Go! Go!" as he pushed on her back. The crush of bodies pushed them apart. Fred gave her one last shove and his hands slipped away. He was gone.
Gina couldn't get to the exit. She thought she would die there. She thought of her sons. She is not sure if she was pushed or if she blacked out, but she remembers her head striking the floor. She is not sure, to this day, who pulled her out of the club
Russo's recovery is a tale of intubation, charred black skin, an oxygen tent, dozens of surgeries, and medically induced coma. But it is also one of reckoning with loss and anger and depression.
Sprinkled throughout the text are diary entries. Letters to Fred, really.
June 10, 2004
I could really use your strength right about now. I feel like I could run away with my two kids and never look back and that makes me feel so guilty because of how good my family has been to me. I miss you and sometimes get mad at you for leaving me here to deal with this all alone . . . I know I am not supposed to question God but I cannot help it anymore.
But Russo's story is also one of recovery. And of finding love again. In 2006, Gina met Steve Sherman through a friend. She was nervous about launching into a relationship. Self-conscious about the scars covering her arms and back and the head burns that would force her to wear a wig for the rest of her life.