Recent Fire Brings Back Memories for Community in East Harlem


HOST: A little more than a year ago, a similar gas explosion killed 8 people in East Harlem, leaving dozens more injured. In the aftermath of the tragedy, friends, colleagues and family members came together Friday morning to remember one of the victims from the explosion. Theresa Avila reports.

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The memorial this morning was for Sgt. Griselde Camacho and it was held at the Hunter College’s East Harlem campus. Camacho was home at 116th and Park Avenue when a gas leak caused the explosion that killed her and seven other people. She had been a public safety officer at the college.

 

John Anthony Valinotti was among those who gathered to remember his former coworker. Valinotti remembers utter confusion following the building’s collapse.

 

VALINOTTI: We didn’t know, was she hurt, did she actually die. And then when we had finally confirmation that she passed away, it devastated the whole department. (0:05)

 

Camacho had started working in 2008. In her time at Hunter, she’d risen through the ranks and been awarded for her service.

 

The ceremony came just the morning after an explosion in the East Village, also likely from a gas leak. The timing of it all struck a chord with Valinotti.

 

VALINOTTI: Here we are today, doing the memorial service, it is eerie, it’s so coincidental, it’s very eerie. (0:08)

 

Another colleague, Robert Lyons, echoed the sentiment. He had trained Camacho and he says news of the fire took him back in time.

 

LYONS: And it scared me because it kind of like, a flashback to this one a year ago (0:05)

 

Lyons says his daughter works at NYU, near the site of the explosion, so he was particularly worried.

 

LYONS: And so I thought of Camacho, when i thought about her I say, ‘ I hope we don’t go through something like this again, with her or anybody else.’ (0:06)

 

Jennifer Raab is president of Hunter College. Together with Camacho’s mother and son, the three unveiled a new plaque and photo honoring the former public safety officer.

 

RAAB: today is a bittersweet day at our east harlem campus, we are here to celebrate the life and the memory of the extraordinary griselde camacho, who was one of our truly treasured public safety officers.

 

Raab presented a check for almost $11,000 from a fund set up in Camacho’s memory. Speaking specifically to Camacho’s sixteen-year-old soon, Jaser,

 

RAAB: So you have a whole community now, as they’re watching over you and making sure that you’re going to have the options educationally that you need to go on to make her proud, ‘cause she was so very, very proud of you.

 

John Anthony Valinotti says it’s more than just the money. When it comes to supporting the families of the victims, it’s a tight-knit community.

 

VALINOTTI: This is el barrio ….When you’re in these communities, everyone always knows, it’s a family, you come together. (0:05)

 

The latest reports from yesterday’s explosion show two people are still missing and 25 are injured.

 

Theresa Avila, Columbia Radio News.

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