When the letter arrived at Dave Kane’s home, a single page of unadorned cursive script, he had to struggle through tears to read it to his wife.
“To Nick O’Neill’s family and friends,” began the letter from Daniel Biechele. “Please allow me to start by apologizing for the part I played in Nick’s tragic death and for taking so long to convey this apology to you.”
Biechele is the former rock band tour manager whose pyrotechnics display for a concert at The Station nightclub in West Warwick on Feb 20, 2003, started the fire that killed Kane’s 18-year-old son, Nicholas O’Neill, and 99 others.
Biechele, who tearfully apologized in court last month before being sentenced to four years in prison, wrote personal letters to the families of all 100 people killed by the fire. The letters were written before the sentencing and are now being distributed by the state probation department to the families who want them.
Some who have received the letters say they are satisfied with Biechele’s words, which have a remorseful tone and show that he accepts responsibility. In at least some notes, Biechele acknowledges that forgiveness may be impossible and that the pain of losing a child is unthinkable.
“I just believe it was sincere,” Kane said Saturday in an interview at his home. “It was just real. It wasn’t ‘I’ll write this letter and the judge will take five years off my sentence.”’
Solace hard to come by
But others don’t want the letters and think that nothing Biechele could write would soothe them.
“I have a lot of issues with Daniel Biechele,” said Claire Bruyere, whose 27-year-old daughter, Bonnie Hamelin, died in the fire. “Unless he can say in the letter that he didn’t kill my daughter, then I have no urge to hear what he says.”
Bruyere did not want Biechele’s letter, but relatives said she might want to read it one day so she had it sent to her sister.
Unwanted letters will be returned to Biechele’s lawyer. There was no immediate indication Saturday how many family members requested the letters and how many did not want them.
Biechele pleaded guilty in February to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter. Club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian are awaiting trial.
In a letter sent to the family of fire victim Tammy Mattera-Housa, 29, Biechele wrote that he would be haunted by his role in the fire “until the day that I die.”
“The pain and suffering that so many endured is absolutely unthinkable,” Biechele wrote. “If I had any idea that anyone would be harmed in the least I would never have used the pyrotechnics. I never wanted to place anyone in danger.”
Moved by words of regret
Leland Hoisington, whose daughter, Abbie, 28, died in the fire, said he was moved by Biechele’s letter and was considering writing back to him. He said he felt sorry for Biechele and considered him a victim and the “only real man in this whole mess.”
“What he had to say to us, he certainly didn’t have to say it,” said Hoisington, who declined to share what Biechele had written.
Kane said he still struggles to read the letter, especially sentences such as: “No parent should ever have to suffer the agony of having their child pass away before they do, and yet it has happened here, partly through my own fault.”
Biechele told Kane in the letter that he didn’t feel he could ask for forgiveness. But at his sentencing hearing, Kane told Biechele his teenage son would have wanted his family to accept Biechele’s apology. Biechele wept as Kane spoke.
Kane and his wife, Joanne O’Neill, think Biechele might have met their musician son since he was invited to hang out with the band on the day of the show.
O’Neill said she called her son and could sense the excitement in his voice.
“You’re going to have a lot of stories to tell,” she told him.
That was their last conversation.