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Santa Maria mourns its dead, calls for justice

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 29, 2013 at 6:39 pm •  Published: January 29, 2013
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SANTA MARIA, Brazil (AP) — The young law student sat alone in a pew, clutching a shirt on which she'd written the names of friends she'd lost in a weekend nightclub fire in this Brazilian college town.

It was grubby and wrinkled, as Halana Pinheiro Rubim alternately smoothed it out on her knees, tracing out the names, then clutched it and cried.

"Luiza Alves," she said, fingering the first name. "She was one of my closest friends. She was a fantastic cook and made the best lasagna. We'd always go to her house to study, then stay to eat."

"Andressa Brissow, and her sister, Louise Brissow. It was Loulou's birthday. She called all her friends. I should have been there. My name was on the guest list."

Crying, Rubim ran her hands over other names: Sabrina Mendes, Gilmara Oliveira, Pedro Mogental. "There are others in the hospital. There are so many names."

Throughout this college town in a prosperous corner of Brazil, residents seemed stunned on Tuesday, unable to digest the sudden tragedy that claimed the lives of 234 young people in a pre-dawn fire Sunday — Santa Maria's lost generation.

As police pressed on with their investigation into the devastation at the Kiss nightclub, which had no fire alarm or sprinklers and only one exit, family and friends of the victims stepped beyond their pain to demand answers. What had gone wrong? Who had failed the town's children?

Their grief spilled over Monday night into a march by about 30,000 people who, dressed in white, coursed quietly through town. Every minute or so, a wave of clapping rippled through the river of mourners, starting at one end and running down the length of the street.

By Tuesday, grief had turned to anger. A group of mostly young people gathered in front of the mayor's office. Chanting "We want justice!" they held up placards bearing the faces of victims. Among them was Douglas Dorneles Medeiros, who lost his girlfriend, Thanise Correa Garcia.

Holding a banner with her photos, he said, "It was murder. These corrupt politicians must be held accountable. ... This was not an accident. It was a death foretold."

Images of desolation abounded. The cars of the young revelers who came to hear a local country band and died inside the gutted club early Sunday haunted its parking lot. In a gym where a mass wake had been held, posters with the victims' faces lingered, amid wilting lilies and white roses. Some contained messages of farewell to a friend or child; others simply said "Mourning" in large black letters.

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