Community mourns victims of ‘Ghost Ship’ fire at Oakland candlelight vigil

Originally published on December 6, 2016 for The Daily Californian

Hundreds of people from around the Bay Area brought their candles to a vigil at the Lake Merritt Pergola on Monday night in remembrance of those lost in Friday night’s Oakland warehouse fire.

The vigil began at 8 p.m. and lasted for about two hours as people spoke to the mourning audience about their lost loved ones. The fire occurred at a warehouse called “Ghost Ship” about 11:15 p.m. Friday night, killing at least 36 people. As of Monday night, the city of Oakland has released the names of 17 victims.

Individuals in the crowd held up their candles, cheering and crying as they hugged one another during the speeches, while others sat by the lake, looking out over the water.

Anthony Bonnett is the director of community outreach for Peace Love Unity Respect Angels, a nonprofit organization that provides medical care at arts and music events. Although he didn’t personally know anyone who perished in the fire, he organized the vigil after spending all Friday night reading about the tragedy.

Bonnett said he waited all Saturday for someone to create a memorial event on Facebook. By 7 p.m., he decided just to organize the candlelight vigil himself.

According to Bonnett, he initially expected a quiet dinner by the lake with 50 to 60 people, but every time he refreshed the event page, he saw that 50 more people had responded. By Monday morning, thousands had expressed interest in the event on Facebook.

“(It’s) a loss … that escapes all social boundaries,” Bonnett said. “It wasn’t just one type of people that were affected — it was people from all walks of life that were heavily affected.”

Foothill College student Charlie Kruse stood at the back of the vigil with his friends. Kruse, who plans to transfer to UC Berkeley next year, grew up with Jenny Morris, a UC Berkeley student who died in the warehouse fire.

“There’s a lot of people out here for Jenny,” Kruse said at the vigil. “It’s wild because I used to go to shows with Jenny. … It really does happen to people that you know.”

David Cline, a UC Berkeley alumnus, also died in the fire. Vanessa Plotkin, Morris’ roommate, is reportedly missing — as is UC Berkeley alumnus Griffin Madden.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin also attended the vigil and spoke to the crowd. He expressed his condolences and said the Berkeley city government will work to expand housing for artists.Some people in the crowd held signs that said “Hugs Here,” and members of the Red Cross handed out blankets for people to stay warm. Mountain View resident Kayte Jackson even pushed around a shopping cart with supplies, including water bottles and tissues, to share with others.

“The fire really is a tragic event for the history of the Bay Area,” Arreguin said. “We must not only do what we can to support Oakland and the families at this time, but we also need to make sure that we can continue to keep our arts and culture scene alive in our community.”

Oakland resident Jenny Yang said she met the friends she lost in the fire — Jennifer Kiyomi Tanouye, Micah Danemayer and Donna Kellogg — through the “Do It Yourself” art community in Oakland. According to the Associated Press, Yang’s friend Ara Jo was also killed in the fire. The whereabouts of her friends Joey Casio and Billy Dixon are still unconfirmed. Yang said she spent the whole weekend grieving.

At the vigil, Yang said she was feeling numb to the sadness but was still teary-eyed when she spoke about her friends.

“I feel pretty grateful to be here in such a huge crowd of people that came out here tonight. This positive support and positive regard is holding me together at this point,” Yang said. “It’s a terrible situation, and I lost (a) number of really great people from my life.”

As a tribute to the friends she lost, Yang made art pieces for each of her friends that people held up throughout the vigil. Each piece had two wooden posts pinned together as a cross with white cloth draped over it and a picture of one of her friends in the middle.

“In some sense, (the art pieces) represent the Ghost Ship. In some sense, they represent a funeral ship that’s taking my friends to the next realm of life and sailing them to a safe place,” Yang said. “I made these so that my friends (at the vigil) could hold these things up and participate and hold our friends up as they go.”

As the vigil came to a close, many people wrote messages and placed candles and flowers on the banner surrounding the speaking area.

In his speech, Arreguin emphasized that Berkeley will continue to support Oakland in any way it can.

“Waking up and (hearing) the terrible news on Saturday shocked me and shocked our community,” Arreguin said. “We continue to stand with Oakland, with the victims. … Together we must make sure to honor everyone we lost.”

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