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Fire Takes Five Lives From Bronx High School With PM-Social Club Fire, Bjt

March 28, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ The hallway at Roosevelt High School, normally barren and whitewashed, was covered with flowers and goodbyes scrawled by students who created a memorial to five friends killed in a social club fire.

″I wish you are all in HEAVEN. I’ll meet you there, my friends 3/8 I miss you,″ wrote one of the students at the Bronx high school, which is attended by about 140 children of Honduran descent.

Many of the messages were in Spanish; wilting flowers were stapled along the length of the 28-foot tribute Tuesday. Teachers and students expressed grief over the loss of friends who two weeks earlier partied with them at a high school dance.

″Norman - you were a wonderful student, a joy to have in class,″ wrote one teacher. ″Always smiling, bright-eyed, sensitive, respectful, kind, humorous, a wonderful son. I will always keep you in my heart and pray for you.″

Above the dozens of names and remembrances hung a computer-printed sign, flanked by bouquets of paper roses. ″In memory of Wendy, Alba, Isabel, Norman, Ernesto,″ it said. All five died early Sunday; the messages began appearing Monday morning.

Norman Clark was one of the four Roosevelt students killed inside the Happy Land Social club. Another victim, Ernesto Gamoneda, graduated from the school last year.

A total of 87 people died in the fire, allegedly set by the enraged ex- boyfriend of the club’s ticket seller.

Wendy Manaiza, 18, planned to attend college following her graduation this June. Alba Escuto went to the club with her boyfriend, Juan Carlos Colon; her cousin, 17-year-old Isabel Lopez was there as well.

Funeral services for the five youths were to begin Thursday.

″They were beautiful kids,″ said Shapiro. ″The school is suffering together on this. This is not business as usual. Business is not as usual.″

Friends of the dead youths arrived at school Monday morning badly shaken, some sobbing and screaming uncontrollably as they met with a team of counselors assigned to the school to help students through the tragedy.

″Some of them needed to be held, physically held. There was no Mr. this or Mrs. that. There was no distance,″ said Cecilio Rodriguez, a former teacher at Roosevelt and currently a member of the Bronx high school crisis response team.

Part of the healing process was creation of the memorial.

″It was an ice-breaker in trying to get something positive out of this,″ said Rodriguez. ″Some of the Honduran kids, who spoke no English, asked how to write ‘God bless you’ or ‘We miss you’ in English. They wanted everybody to understand their message.″

Students told the counselors their friends arrived at the Happy Land after a local house party attended by many Roosevelt students; several students who stayed at the party felt guilty about surviving, the counselors said.

″They had to confront that: ‘I was with so and so two hours before at the party.’ It’s mortality - here today, gone tomorrow. Kids that age think they’re invincible,″ said Milta Vega, a drug counselor at the school.

The deaths were keenly felt at the 3,300 student-school, where 60 percent of the student body is Hispanic. Counselors said the tragedy had united students of varying backgrounds and ethnicities.

″It was almost beautiful to see the way they came together,″ Rodriguez said Tuesday afternoon. ″There was a good spiritual energy generated by the end of the day.″

But, the counselors said, their job is just beginning rather than ending.

″The crisis time is now, but the follow-up work must continue,″ said Rodriguez. ″The repercussions from this incident could surface as far away as the first anniversary.″

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