Friday, September 19, 2008

Boland Hall Fire

The fire at Boland Hall killed three freshmen and injured 58 others including four critically. One of the doors to the third floor still bears evidence of a student's struggle to escape the blaze.

Alvaro Llanos, one of the most seriously injured students, lies in a coma on an operating room table as he awaits a skin grafting on his chin and neck. One of Alvaro's surgeons, Dr. Michael Marano, stands over him as he is prepped for the procedure, the first of many.

For relatives of the burned it is an agonizingly long wait. Alvaro's father, Alvaro Llanos Sr., endures it all in the hospital's waiting room. Two year earlier, Mr. Llanos was tricken with a disabling stroke. He still uses a cane for assistance.

While Alvaro continues to linger in a coma, his roommate, Shawn Simons, sees his burned hand for the first time while receiving his daily bath in "the tank." Although he was burned on his hands and face, Shawn's injuries were considered less life-threatening than his roommate's.

Shawn looks at himself as he tries on his custom-made mask, which reduces facial scarring. He find the mask to be tight, hot and scary and decides he will deal with some disfigurement and skin discoloration rather than wear it 12 hours a day.

Prior to an operation to put pins in his fingers to save his severly damaged joints, Christine Simons comforts her son Shawn before he is taken into the operting room.

While Alvaro is still in a coma in the hospital, Shawn is driven home after being discharged. The route home takes him past the dormitory where he was burned. He does not turn to look.

Weeks after returning home, Shawn is able to button his suit vest as he prepares to go to church. He would have to continue to wear the special gloves to minimize the scarring on his hands.

While Alvaro struggles, Shawn is making a rapid recovery. He gently kisses his girlfriend Tila's hand as the two visit Alvaro at a family barbeque during the summer. Their relationship survived despite the injuries Shawn suffered in the fire.

Daisy Llanos, Alvaro's mother, leans in and kisses her son through her face mask as he slowly regains consciousness.

Alvaro takes his first steps since the fire three months ago. He is shaky, and he needs support from burn tech Paul Mellini and physical therapist Roy Bond. This first day he walks five steps. The next day he takes 88 steps.

The recovery process is slow and painful. While sitting in his room, a tear falls from Alvaro's eye.

Alvaro, now an outpatient, waits with his mother for his doctor to examine him. As they wait, it all becomes too much for his mother, Daisy. She slumps in her seat, then suddenly flees the room, leaving Alvaro to face the medical staff alone.

Alvaro and Shawn ordeal has made them closer than ever. They are invited to attend a N.Y. Mets baseball game, and they sit in the dugout as Mets manager Bobby Valentine makes a call. Alvaro, a huge Mets fan, later says he sat in the dugout and imagined climbing the steps and making his way to the plate to take a pitch.

Five months after the fire, Alvaro is able to move under his own power, but he will still have to undergo many surgeries to minimize his scars. As he and Shawn's mom ride an elevator to a suite at Shea Stadium, Alvaro is oblivious to a young girl's stare.

Caring for a person who has been severly burned can be stressful. It all comes to a head one day when Alvaro's mother Daisy helps Alvaro with his bath. The confrontation causes Daisy to retret to her bedroom while Alvaro tries to finish hitching up his jeans on his own.

Burn technician Toni Schmidt gets a hug from Shawn inside the tank room.

Alvaro's relationship with his girlfriend does not fare as well as Shawn's. Alvaro and his girlfriend, Angie, talk outside her dorm during Alvaro's first visit to the Seton Hall campus since the fire. Angie stuck with Alvaro through eight months of his recovery, but it has finally become too much for her. "I thought we would get married," she says of her relationship with Alvaro, "but now he's not the one...he's not the Alvaro I fell in love with."

Alvaro stands with Shawn as the candles are lit for Shawn's 19th birthday party. Shawn's mom, Christine, stand by. "I love Alvaro," says Shawn of his friend and former roommate. "Al's going to be all right. I have no doubt. And I'll be right there with him."

As you can tell I picked a series of pictures. These pictures are from the 2001 Feature Photography catagory. The pictures tell a story of pain, agony, suffering, and the long road of recovery ahead for some of these students that were in Boland Hall when it was set on fire. This arson killed three fresman and injured 58 other students, all because two boys thought it would be funny to pull a prank. In the images you can see the emotion and pain that the victims, and their familes are feeling. All of this pain and suffering is caused by the irresponsible actions of two boys, who knew what they were doing, and that it was wrong. Due to their actions many people were hurt, and three were killed, the thoughts and images of that day will forever be in the mind of the students from Boland Hall.

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