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Neighbors provide comfort on campus

BY SUSAN KIM | SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. | January 20, 2000

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (Jan. 20, 2000) -- Expressions of sympathy and

comfort resounded nationwide after a tragic fire took the lives of

three students and injured at least 50 others in a dormitory on the

campus of Seton Hall University.

Flames broke out early Wednesday morning in the six-story Boland

Hall, a 48-year-old building that did not have sprinklers because it

was built before they were required by code.

Faith leaders, New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, and South Orange

residents extended messages of comfort and offers to help students

and their families. Classes where canceled today for the 10,000

students at the Roman Catholic school, located about 15 miles

southwest of New York City. Sports events were also canceled.

The First Presbyterian and Trinity Church, both just a few blocks

from the university, sent pastors to the scene to offer assistance.

"We thought that students would have needs such as temporary housing

or grief counseling," said church member Joe Riciaridi. "We're neighbors."

Deborah McCauley, a Church World Service (CWS) disaster resource consultant,

contacted the university to offer response

services. "We are ready and willing to help," she said.

Most of more than 600 students sleeping in the dorm were able to flee

the fire, some crawling down corridors to stairwells, and at least

one was reported to have leaped from a third floor window. The blaze

started in a third floor lounge, pouring thick black smoke through

the building. The cause is under investigation.

The university established a toll-free number (800-738-6648) for

parents to call for information.

After a stint of false fire alarms last semester, many students

simply went back to sleep when the fire alarm went off, assuming it

was another prank. At least four false alarms emptied the dormitory

during final exams last semester. The university had offered a reward

for information leading to the prankster.

Students reported they saw people smoking in the lounge even though

it's prohibited.

For many students, Seton Hall's tragic fire brought back recent

memories of another campus tragedy. At Texas A&M University in

mid-November 1999, a bonfire collapsed, killing 11 and injuring 28.

There is a need for balance and hopeful theological response in the

wake of these types of tragedies, said Norm Hein, a CWS facilitator

who provided assistance to pastors in the wake of the Texas incident

last fall. "There were a couple of instances in which people are

saying this is God's reaction to frivolousness and to people wasting

time and not studying," he said.

But most churches can offer a healthy outlet in which people can talk

about disaster and work through grief, he added.

Fritz Parker, an Austin, Tex.-based volunteer for the United

Methodist Committee on Relief, said that, after a tragic accident,

many people are left with the feeling they'd like to do more.

"For most people it seems like all we can do is pray for them," he said.

He said that a college tragedy hits local people hard because so many

people participate in college-related events.

Hein said that, while national response organizations expressed their

caring, it was important for response to be led by local pastors and

organizations. "They were here before the disaster and they'll be

here afterward," he said. "That's why we let the campus faith

community lead the response."

Another dorm fire was reported at the University of New Mexico in

Albuquerque on Tuesday. About 300 students were evacuated but there

were injuries reported. School officials said it was a suspicious


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