Two children lost in fire Saturday identified, remembered

  • A shrine has formed for two children killed in a fire Saturday on Mechanic Street in Orange. Recorder Staff/Chris Curtis

Recorder Staff
Published: 3/7/2016 10:43:01 PM

ORANGE — A makeshift shrine of stuffed toys, flowers and notes in childish handwriting grew steadily along the sidewalk before 34 Mechanic St. Monday afternoon, the home where authorities say fire claimed the lives of 6-year-old Leena Shea Ciolino and 8-year-old Victoria Rose Gaignard Saturday.

Leena’s father, Vinny Ciolino, was listed in critical condition Monday evening in UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. Neighbors said he was badly burned trying to reach the girls, trapped on the second floor.

The District Attorney’s Office on Monday released the names as presumed, stipulating that the Medical Examiner has not officially identified the two.

The girls were in the first and second grade at Fisher Hill School in Orange, and District Superintendent Tari Thomas sent out a message to parents that counselors would be available in all schools throughout the week.

According to neighbors, Leena was a child of the residents, Heather Laughton and Vinny Ciolino. Victoria, a friend, was visiting, they said. The parents and Leena’s teenage brother escaped the blaze. All three were taken to the hospital.

Rich Snow lives across the street and is a friend of the family. His family took in the three pets left homeless. Snow said it’s a tight-knit street and his family has been friends with Ciolino and Laughton since they moved in two and a half years ago. “They’re family, no doubt about it,” he said.

Snow said he talked to Laughton and saw their son Monday.

Fire investigators were on the scene Monday, and have been since the fire. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to a Fire Marshal’s Office spokesman.

Snow said he heard screaming and looked out to see smoke Saturday afternoon, and Ciolino trying to get into a window with a stepladder.

An Orange police officer was first on the scene, neighbors said, and went in with a fire extinguisher.

Snow said he tried to get a ladder from a neighbor’s house, but by then smoke and flames were coming out the window. “Then it was like chaos, all the fire trucks and the ambulances,” Snow said.

With his windows facing the burned house, Snow said he has tried to keep his blinds closed since. He was working on a wooden cross for the shrine Monday, to be painted by another neighbor with the girls’ names.

In addition to the toys and letters on the lawn, people had donated large sums through crowd-funding site GoFundMe by Monday. There was some dispute online as to the legitimacy of some of the pages created, and a neighbor said several scam pages had been taken off the site by Monday afternoon. Neighbor Denise Dirth said she trusts the “Help for Heather Laughton & family” page by Bri Gabry, but took her money to Witty’s Funeral Home to be safe. Witty’s is accepting donations on behalf of both families. Owner Jeff Cole said he has only been in touch with one of the families so far, but he will send money on to another funeral home if need be. Any money leftover after the fixed funeral costs — Cole said he is donating his services — will go to the families, he said. Donations may be sent to Witty’s, 158 South Main St., with “kids” in the memo line.

Dirth, husband Mike Chaplin and Jesse Jorgensen, a Fountain Street resident who watched the fire, were upset with the fire department’s response. From what they saw and heard up the street, they believe the girls were still alive when firefighters arrived and that they did not act quickly enough in connecting a hose and entering the home. Snow and another neighbor were uncertain.

(The Recorder did further reporting on the question raised by these neighbors.)

(Recorder Editor George Forcier wrote a column about the decision to publish the neighbors’ controversial comments without a fuller explanation, and the problems that created.)

Fire Chief James Young Jr. said he would not be commenting now on anything to do with the department’s operations. The cause of the fire was still under investigation, he said. The department has contacted a team for a critical incident stress debriefing for members, he said.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com


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