Reflecting on the Seton Hall Fire 15 years later

Boland hallLet me say this, 15 years is a long time. On this day 15 years ago, I was an 18-year old freshman at Seton Hall University living with Eamon Moye, Burton Bell and some other Jeff (I can’t remember his name, but he was not a good roommate) in Boland Hall. Unlike most kids in the dorm, we were living in a priest room with four bunk beds, AC and a fridge or two with more Keystone Light than any human should ever look at.

On this day, we were doing what any other college kid was doing – staying up late, illegally drinking in our dorm and figuring out what the hell life was and what the hell we were all going to do after racking up some serious student loan debt. As far as we were concerned, life was good and no one, I mean NO ONE had it better than us.

All those thoughts went out the window when we heard the fire alarm shrieking in the early hours of January 19,Seton Hall 2000. It was cold outside and we figured this was another crank fire drill. We hid inside our walk-in closet like we had done in the past. However, unlike other times, our phone rang – and went to voicemail. On the other end of the message, we heard Burton’s girlfriend screaming something like “Get the fuck out of the closet, you dumb mother fuckers. This is real. There is a fucking fire on my side of the floor.” That got us moving pretty quickly. We opened the room door, smelled smoke and grabbed whatever clothes we could. For those of you unfamiliar with Seton Hall’s fire, please click here before going on. 

Instead of walking to the exit to the left of our room, we walked right towards the fire – fire drills hammered home the walk that we were supposed to take out. After going through the chaos and wondering what the fuck was going on, we found ourselves on the school’s green looking for our friends. Somehow, our core group of friends collected together with fire trucks, police and school officials trying to figure out what was going on and to control the mass that was the residents of Boland Hall.

Our group of friends was pretty tight and we all wound up heading to the school’s coffee bar/lounge to try to get in contact with our folks and get some rest or just collect ourselves after starting to realize what we had just survived. Almost all of us forgot our cell phones in the room – this wasn’t like today where they are seen as must grab items, it was a simpler time in that regard – so we relied on the jammed phone lines at the school to get in touch with our folks. As early morning transitioned into the day time, we were all picked up by parents or went home with our friends.

In the weeks that followed we had come to the realization that the fire was started intentionally and three fellow classmates had passed away and many were injured. I don’t know if words can truly ever explain how much this event has impacted me, or my view of humanity (good and bad) even 15 years later.

Out of my core group of friends from 15 years ago, only a handful graduated from Seton Hall. I keep in contact with a bunch of folks, I saw a lot of them for a surprise birthday for my roommate Steve “Gunzo” Starzynski. We talked about Boland Hall, the fire and the hypocrisy that followed from the school, the New Jersey State Police and the Archdiocese of Newark (NJ) in the aftermath of the fire.

My life is much different than it was 15 years ago, I am married with two beautiful children, but I still think about what if. With that, I am thankful for Sue Ann – wherever she is and for the friends that I made. I also feel infinitely sad for the families of my three classmates who lost their lives. No honorary degrees or bell tower in front of the business school can bring them back.

Hug your children tighter today. You never know what today or tomorrow will bring.