Report: Children Who Lost Parents In GREAT WHITE Fire Coping

The following report was issued by the Associated Press:

Nathan Mattera's summers now include bereavement camp, and his after-school activities have been pared to counseling and playing near home. He stays close to his grandmother, now his legal guardian, and occasionally sleeps at the foot of her bed.

The 11-year-old boy's life was uprooted when fire ripped through the Station nightclub, leaving him one of nearly 70 children who lost a parent in the blaze.

Two years after the fire that killed 100, some of the children remain in limbo, waiting for a judge to decide who they should live with permanently. About a dozen have moved, and one boy lost both parents in the fire, according to Family Services of Rhode Island.

"These kids lost so much, too much," says Nathan's grandmother, Diane Mattera. "There's nothing you can do to make them feel better. You try, but they lost everything."

The fire, sparked by the pyrotechnics of 1980s rock band GREAT WHITE, also injured more than 200 people. The survivors, and the families of those killed, say they are still waiting for justice.

The criminal trial of nightclub owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian and former GREAT WHITE tour manager Daniel Biechele have been put off until at least January. All three were charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Civil lawsuits are on hold while the criminal case goes forward.

"You're kind of held hostage," said Anne Marie D'Alessio, director of the Rhode Island Victims' Advocacy and Support Center. "There's no closure. That's a myth. But you can close chapters."

For the children, the passage of time has not necessarily made the loss of a parent any easier. There's been a resurgence in the number of people seeking counseling as the scope of the loss has settled in, said Jeffrey Brusini, senior vice president of Family Services of Rhode Island.

Some of the children were from working class families struggling to survive, teenage parents, children born to single mothers and divorce. Those situations resulted in a handful of custody battles and child relocations, exacerbating the tragedy for children trying to move forward.

"It makes the mourning process more difficult because there is ambiguity and uncertainty in the child's life. It causes stress," said Steven Barreto, a psychologist at Bradley Hospital, Rhode Island's only psychiatric hospital for children.

Many grandparents who became primary caretakers, like Mattera, already knew much of the routine of the children, being involved in their lives even when their sons and daughters were alive.

But other children ended up with family members they barely knew, or distant relatives or family friends who are now fighting to keep custody. Many of those killed in the fire didn't have wills specifying who would get custody of their children if they died. But even for those who did, trouble has presented itself.

Following the fire, Justin DeMaio, then 7, lived with his grandmother in West Warwick. About four months later, he moved to Maine to live with his late mother's cousin, Steven Beardsworth, his wife and their teenage son. Dina DeMaio, 30, a part-time waitress at The Station, named Beardsworth as Justin's guardian in her will.

But the Beardsworths' custody arrangement is so far only temporary. Justin's father has gone to court for custody.

Beardsworth said the uncertainty was frustrating for Justin at first, but he's adjusted well to his new life up north.

"A lot of people were against what I did, but it's what Dina asked for and I wanted to respect that," he said.

Justin, who turns 10 in April, has started to talk more openly about his mom, wanting to hold tight her memory.

"When the (New England) Patriots won the Super Bowl, he said he believed his mom had a hand in it," Beardsworth said.


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