GINA RUSSO

Post courtesy of ChapelHillJournal.com

GINA RUSSO

Location: West Warwick, RI

Date Of Injury: February 2003

Gina Russo and her boyfriend showed up at the Station Nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., about 10:30 p.m. Feb. 20, 2003. They got only one drink apiece since they had plans for the next day.

The band Great White came onstage, and lead singer Jack Russell began the first song. Right on cue, the pyrotechnics display launched sparks near the back wall. The place was packed, but Russo and her boyfriend were right up front, swaying with the music.

Then Russo noticed something was wrong. “You could see at the base of the fireworks something wasn’t quite right. We tried to get out the fire exit that was maybe three steps from where we were standing,” Russo remembered, “but it was blocked by a bouncer. He wouldn’t let us out the door. He told us it was club policy that the door was for the band only.”

Not wanting to argue, the couple started pushing through the crowd, trying to get to the front door. Everyone kept dancing. Jack Russell kept singing, but he started looking around, sensing something was wrong. Then the ceiling caught fire.

“The crowd became an instant stampede,” Russo said, “like on the animal shows, animals stampeding.” Her boyfriend pushed her, thrusting her forward and yelled, ‘Go!’ She got to the door but was forced into an alcove, and didn’t make it outside. She looked back and saw what looked like black rain falling from the ceiling, heads on fire, people on fire.

In that moment, she accepted that she was going to die.

She couldn’t believe it was now, in these circumstances, but she came to terms with it. She sent out prayers that her two young sons would have a good life, and she hoped they would forgive her for dying this way. Then she blacked out.

Eleven weeks later she woke up in a hospital. Her boyfriend didn’t make it out of the fire.

The experience changed her outlook on life.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” she said in an interview two years later. “Don’t take anything for granted. The money doesn’t matter. The status doesn’t matter. It’s my family and being there with them, and being able to live a good life.”