Relatives remember social club fire victims
By Herbert Lowe
Staff Writer

March 28, 2004, 6:42 PM EST

Surrounded by a din of traffic and passersby oblivious to their sorrow, scores of relatives and friends gathered at a busy Bronx intersection Sunday to remember the 87 people who died in the Happy Land Social Club fire in 1990.

Many in the crowd carried bouquets of flowers from nearby St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Crotona Park, while others made sure buckets of flowers, votive candles and balloons graced the memorial site across from 1959 Southern Blvd.

After a prayer service at the site, Antonia Romero, Alejandro Aguilar and Ana Armijo fondly spoke of Aguilar's mother, Lourdes Aguilar Rodriguez, 24, a housekeeper from New Jersey and one of the victims.

Romero, Rodriguez' sister, remarked how her nephew's face looked just like his mother, all but the birthmark on the left cheek. She then began to cry.

"She don't feel good," Armijo, a family friend, said of Romero.

Early March 25, 1990, 87 people -- 79 of them Honduran immigrants -- died when Julio Gonzalez set fire to an illegal social club on Southern Boulevard because he felt slighted by his girlfriend, a hat-check woman at the club who survived the blaze.

Gonzalez, 37, who worked in a lamp factory, was convicted in 1991 of 174 murder charges and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for what was then the largest mass murder in U.S. history.

The memorial site is a seven-ton granite obelisk engraved with the victim's names and surrounded by a steel gate and benches. The area is now an official New York City park, and the block it sits on is now called "Avenido de la Ochenta Y Siete" -- the Avenue of the 87.

"We will never forget them," said Councilman Joel Rivera (D-Bronx) "We will never forget their lives. We will remember them year after year after year."

The largest memorial displays came from the family of Lenin and Marco Gamoneda, two brothers who died in the fire. Seven of their nine brothers and sisters were on hand, as was their mother, Leticia Gamoneda, who relatives said visits the site every holiday.

"We don't want to forget my brothers," said Edwin Gamoneda. "We don't want people to forget what happened."
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