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Press Conference on Rhode Island Nightclub Fire Investigation

Aired February 24, 2003 - 22:25   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The officials in Rhode Island are beginning a news conference. We'll take that.

GOV. DON CARCIERI (R), RHODE ISLAND: Busy evening, the two events, as you know, the interfaith memorial service at St. Gregory's. And then that was followed by the vigil, if you will, at the civic center.

Both events, from all the feedback I've gotten, were very well received. The prayer service at St. Gregory's was well attended. The church was full. Families that were there very, very much appreciated afterward. And I was standing there when people were leaving and many of them were very, very thankful for that.

The same thing was true. We ran a little bit long in West Warwick, but you had a great example of the whole community. What struck me when I was there is, I said was, you had two grieving communities. You had the families there. And then you had the whole community that's been grieving and kind of the merging of these two things and the whole state rallying and coming forward in support of these families. So, it was a long, long afternoon and evening, but the feedback I got was very excellent.

Two things that -- in terms of news or new items before I get to where we are. I'm really pleased to announce tonight the formation of what we're calling the Station Nightclub Fire Relief Fund to assist the needs of those that have been impacted by this tragedy. This fund is going to be established by the United Way of Rhode Island, with a coordinating council compromised of representatives from the community, including, but not limited to, the United Way, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the state government, and private sector.

This will be, I believe, the first of its kind, where we try to set up an umbrella organization to funnel the donations that are coming in with a common goal and strategy in terms of how these funds would be disbursed and so forth. So we think this could be a model in what we're doing for some things that will be done in other parts of the state.

Secondly, we are going to have that Web site up and running. The secretary of state is here. He's done, and his staff, an excellent job putting that in place. So that will be up and running. And I know he's got some information on all of that, if any of you would like.

Where we are right now in terms of the progress to date, since I spoke to you at noontime, we have positively identified 23 of the 42. Remember, at noontime, we had identified 55 and we had 42 remaining; 23 of those have been positively identified as we stand here tonight. Those families are being communicated with. That's been going on all evening. And we have, therefore, 19 left.

We are hoping that, by tomorrow midday, we will have made major progress on those 19. What I told the families before I came here is that there is some concern that, as we get down to the last number, whatever that is, that this process may get stretched out. These are a little bit more complicated to make certain that the identification is correct.

So -- and there are a number of questions. You asked some questions earlier today about number of missing persons reports and so forth and how did they match up. All of that, we are looking at and coming down. So we will have a better feel on the last 19, as I say, by midday tomorrow.

We will be releasing tonight 14 names. These are names that have been -- where the families have been contacted and they've agreed to have those names released, which will bring 43. And the general will do that.

Also, the law enforcement community has agreed to set a tip hot line. That tip hot line will be active tomorrow. The telephone number will be 821-6101, 821-6101. That number will not be active until tomorrow. But the idea is, obviously, to solicit any tips, any input from people who might have been there, or otherwise, to help in the process of the investigation.

Also, we are pursuing, with the SBA -- as I said earlier, today, we did file an application with the federal government to have a declaration of disaster. We are also going to go with the SBA, has some programs available for businesses that might have been impacted.

And as many of you know, the Cowesett Inn, for example, right across the street, had basically let us take it over, almost, for the two or three days. And that was true of a number of businesses along Cowesett road that are impacted. So, what we're looking at is what kind of -- and there are programs the SBA has to assist those kinds of businesses. So, we are pursuing that as well.

The family center will be open Wednesday morning and we'll give you the facts and information on the actual location, telephone numbers, and so forth. But that will be open. That's all been worked out.

That's about all I have this evening. To make a more efficient use of your time, so we're not here taking your time and not providing information, we thought that the best thing maybe would be tomorrow to give you an update at 3:00 tomorrow afternoon. That will give time to see how it went in the morning, what the issues are and through most of the day. So, we'll have a better handle on that remaining 19 as to what progress we've made and what issues might have surfaced by mid- afternoon, so that we're not wasting your time. We're providing you information, but we've got to be in a position to do that efficiently.

So, I think that's all I had. Any questions?

QUESTION: You had mentioned something before about (OFF-MIKE) And at previous news briefings, you had talked about the possibility that there are families somewhere out there who are not aware that they have lost someone. Is that still the case?

CARCIERI: Actually, we don't think so right now. As we review, we actually have the opposite. We have, right now, more missing persons reports than we have bodies, by four. So we're not sure exactly what -- why that is. We're double-checking to see how that might have occurred.

There are obvious questions. Some of the family members asked, does that mean I've filed a missing-person report and you don't have my loved one? God forbid that we get to that. That's possible. I don't want to prejudge that. And what I've told the family is, let's see. Give this another day to see how we come out with the remaining 19.

It is conceivable we could wind up with a situation where we've got a mismatch here. And then we've got to look at all kinds of possibilities. Some of the obvious ones that would occur to you have occurred to us. But without prejudging that, I think we just need to let that play out. But the fact is, we have more missing-persons reports at this moment than we have bodies.

QUESTION: Governor, can you give us...

BROWN: The governor of Rhode Island going through tonight some small pieces of news, but not unimportant. They now have 19 people whose remains still need to be identified, as that terrible work in Rhode Island goes on after the fire.



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