Seton Hall

Where Were You When the Fire Started?

By 9 a.m. the smoke had dissipated, but the stench of disaster still clung to everything.  Some students huddled in a nearby cafeteria. Others -- dazed, some barefoot, some wearing nothing more than the T-shirts they had gone to bed in -- wandered like zombies across the quad. Sooner or later, most of those who were still walking would tumble into one pit of reporters or another.

"What did you see?"

"What did you feel?"

"Where were you when the fire started?"

None of the interviews was particularly enlightening. But one brief interview stands out in hindsight.

Joe LaPore
Joe LaPore
Joe LaPore, a North Jersey kid with a swagger that he maintained despite the chaos around him, had escaped unharmed from the fire along with his roommate and childhood buddy, Sean Ryan. Ryan had managed to escape the crush of reporters, but LaPore saw no need to.

"At first I thought it was a false alarm, that somebody did something stupid," LaPore told one of the reporters who pressed close to him. "When I opened the door, I knew it was real. It was scary as hell."

"There was just a lot of smoke," he told another reporter in the crush. "You couldn't even see 10 inches in front of your face." The reporters, of course, thanked him for his insight, folded their notebooks and moved on.   Months later, they'd flip those notebooks open again and study those quotes.

By then, arson investigators for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms would have long since determined that the Boland Hall fire did not begin as a result of some faulty wire in a wall someplace, that the death and destruction was not the result of a careless flicked cigarette smoldering in some out-of-the way trash can. By then, the authorities would be convinced that the fire had been deliberately set. They would also be convinced that Joe LaPore and his childhood pal Sean Ryan were responsible for the blaze.

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