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Service recalls victims of nightclub fire

Grief mixes with praise for rescue workers

Mourners filled St. Gregory the Great Church in Warwick, Rhode Island, for an interfaith memorial service.
Mourners filled St. Gregory the Great Church in Warwick, Rhode Island, for an interfaith memorial service.

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As the investigation continues into the Rhode Island nightclub fire, friends and families of the 97 victims sought comfort at memorial services. CNN's Bob Franken reports (February 25)
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Family members visit the charred shell of the nightclub. CNN's Bob Franken reports. (February 24)
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Jeffrey Derderian denies his club OK'd pyrotechnics during a Great White show (February 23)
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Great White's Jack Russell tells WCVB he's devastated (February 21)
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News footage captures the start of the deadly fire (February 21)
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WEST WARWICK, Rhode Island (CNN) -- As investigators sought more answers Monday from owners of the nightclub where 97 people died in a fire last week, friends and families of the victims sought comfort at memorial services.

"We have suffered a great tragedy, and the depth of that pain is shared by our entire state, our neighboring state and indeed much of the world," said Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri. "This terrible disaster has touched so many lives, we will be forever changed."

The Rev. John E. Holt also spoke at an interfaith service led by Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church. Holt asked families who brought pictures of victims to the service to hold them up.

"My heart is broken for each one of you," Holt said. "I can't possibly identify with your pain. This event is truly tragic and will never make sense."

Grief was mixed with praise at the West Warwick Civic Center, when firefighters, emergency medical personnel and others were lauded for risking their lives while trying to save lives at the fire scene.

"This is a tragedy that will take years for our close-knit community to come to grips with," Rhode Island House Speaker William Murphy, who represents West Warwick, told the thousands sitting and standing at the event.

Murphy said he will support the creation of a memorial park on the site of the former nightclub that was engulfed in flames Thursday night one song into a concert from the 1980s heavy metal band Great White.

The band's pyrotechnic display ignited soundproofing foam behind the stage. Within three minutes, flames engulfed the wooden building, fire officials said.

The club owners and the band have disputed whether permission to use pyrotechnics was granted.

"Band members have been cooperative and responsive to questions posed of them," Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said Monday. "And I anticipate them being just that way as we proceed in that investigation and again ultimately in a court if necessary."

Club owners asked to cooperate

The owners of the nightclub -- brothers Michael and Jeffrey Derderian -- have not responded to law enforcement questions since the night of the fire, but they have given interviews to media, drawing criticism from Lynch on Monday.

"I remain hopeful that they will cooperate with law enforcement as much as they've cooperated with the press," said the attorney general, who has said criminal charges could be filed in the case.

Jeffrey Derderian responded to that criticism Monday.

"We're devastated by what's happened," he said. Derderian said friends of his were among the dead and injured.

Derderian said he is willing to provide information to the attorney general but declined to say when.

"The investigation is ongoing," he said. "We want answers, too, and at the appropriate time we will be willing to make a full statement. Our number one concern right now is with the families that have been affected."

Officials would neither confirm nor deny reports that police served a search warrant Sunday night at Michael Derderian's home in Narragansett. Narragansett police referred calls on the matter to the state attorney general, whose spokesman did not return calls for comment.

Kathleen Hagerty, who represents the Derderians, also did not return phone calls for comment.

Through their attorney, the Derderians released a statement Monday contending that Great White used pyrotechnics without requesting their permission.

However, the band's attorney, Ed McPherson, said the club owners "are wrong." He said one owner gave permission and that his brother was present while Great White was setting up.

Along with the 97 killed, 80 other burned and injured people remained hospitalized, 24 in critical condition, Carcieri said.

Carcieri announced that the state had introduced a moratorium on the use of pyrotechnics at clubs of similar size, which would be inspected by fire marshals in the near future.

About 200 deputy fire marshals would inspect all Class C club venues, he said. The Station was a Class C venue, which accommodates between 50 and 300 people.

Deputy marshals will then inspect Class B and Class A establishments, which hold more people.

Guitarist's remains identified

Great White guitarist Ty Longley, whose body was identified Monday, is shown in this undated photo.
Great White guitarist Ty Longley, whose body was identified Monday, is shown in this undated photo.

Carcieri said Monday that 55 of the fire's victims had been identified. He said he expected the state medical examiner's office to be able to identify most of the remaining victims by Tuesday.

"My whole focus right now is to get the identifications completed as soon as possible so those families can find closure," Carcieri said.

Among the 28 names of victims released Monday was Ty Longley, the 31-year-old Great White guitarist. He had been missing since Thursday.

The governor has asked for federal disaster relief to help with the cost of the blaze. He did not specify the amount or the type of disaster relief sought.

It was the second fatal incident at a U.S. club in recent days. Twenty-one people died a week ago and more than 50 were injured in a nightclub stampede in Chicago, Illinois, that apparently began when a security guard used pepper spray to break up a fight. (Full story) (List of victims)

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