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Three years later, tragedy of Ghost Ship fire still affects many lives

Angela Ruggiero, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

OAKLAND, Calif. -- It's been three years since 36 people -- artists, students, parents, and sons and daughters -- stepped inside the Ghost Ship warehouse for a party and never came back out of what has been described as a fire trap.

The death of the 36 victims in Oakland's deadliest fire has had a ripple effect on many -- their family members and friends who are reminded of their loss every day, the city officials who have been criticized for ignoring signs that people were living inside the warehouse and the two men accused of being responsible for their deaths.

At 11:20 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2016, a blaze broke out during a dance party and quickly spread throughout the cluttered warehouse, which had illegally been converted to a living quarters for a collective of artists. Within minutes, 36 people died by smoke inhalation, making it the deadliest structure fire in modern California history. In their last moments, some victims texted loved ones parting messages such as "I'm gonna die now" or "I love you. Fire."

For David Gregory, whose 21-year-old daughter Michela Angelina Gregory perished in the fire, every day is a reminder of her death. Her room at home remains empty.

"I haven't heard my daughter's voice in three years, and I never will," he said Monday in a phone meeting.

"There isn't a day, minute or second we don't think of our own daughter. Everywhere you go, you get reminded. We felt guilty for smiling and laughing ... it never ends."

 

This year, the Gregory family decided not to visit the warehouse itself, located on 31st Avenue in East Oakland, as they have done in the past with other victims' family members. It was just too painful, he said.

But the flood of phone calls and messages from family and friends continued, even internationally. David Gregory said a cousin from Italy went to church to pray for his daughter, then went to the cemetery where her photo is on a plaque on his grandmother's grave in Italy.

"This affects so many people, for generations to come," he said.

For Colleen Dolan, the mother of Chelsea Faith Dolan, 33, the third-year anniversary is also painful. For only the second time since her daughter's death, she opened the box that was sent to her by the coroner that contained the clothes Chelsea wore that night. It was the only memorial she could stand this year, her mother said.

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