Nine years after nightclub fire, victims’ families see justice begin

In 2013, 242 young people were killed; over 600 were injured

Published in 27/01/2022 - 11:55 By Bruno Bocchini - São Paulo

Nine years after the fire that claimed the lives of 242 young people and left over 600 injured at a nightclub known as Boate Kiss, in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul state, South Brazil, the families of the victims believe justice has finally begun. Last December, four people charged by prosecutors with 242 homicides and 636 attempted homicides with assumption of risk were sentenced by a jury to 18 to 22 years of imprisonment—to be served at first in jail.

“We consider that justice has been done, but we know that this will be ruled in higher courts further in the future, because they’re likely to appeal. We understand that justice had its beginning. Their sentence is a sign of justice,” said Flávio Silva, head of the Association of Relatives of the Victims and Survivors of the Santa Maria Tragedy (AVTSM).

The owners of Boate Kiss, Elissandro Calegaro Spohr and Mauro Londero Hoffmann, were sentenced to 22 years and six months, and to 19 years and six months of imprisonment respectively. The singer from band Gurizada Fandangueira, Marcelo de Jesus dos Santos, who lit up the fireworks that led to the blaze, and the band’s producer, Luciano Augusto Bonilha Leão, who purchased the items, received 18 years each.

“This is a victory for society. We didn’t win anything. [Their sentence] proves that this type of crime is starting to be punished in Brazil. But we understand that justice doesn’t start being made until there’s a lot of fight, a lot of struggle,” said Flávio Silva, father of Andrielle Righi da Silva, who died in the fire when she was 22.

The four men have started serving their sentences. Concurrently, at the military courts, two firefighters were sentenced to imprisonment. The ruling is yet to start being executed due to appeals lodged with the Superior Court of Justice.

Four firefighters had previously received sentences from regular courts as well as punishments with no imprisonment, as a result of irregularities in the nightclub’s license to operate. “We don’t see it as a sentence, as their responsibility for the crimes they committed is real. They were sentenced to pay a fine,” Silva said. Family members, he said, have reached the Superior Court of Justice and await a new trial.

Tragedy

The fire started in the early hours of Sunday, January 27, 2013, during the performance of musical group Gurizada Fandangueira. The event had been organized by students of Agronomy, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Animal Science, Agribusiness, Food Processing, and Pedagogy from the Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM).

The blaze began in the club ceiling, after one of the band members fired up pyrotechnics onstage. The foam installed to muffle the sound in the area was inappropriate for indoor use. After the material started burning, it released toxic substances that led to most of the fatalities. The establishment’s license was irregular and the facilities were overcrowded.

Survivors recount that a black smoke filled up the entire place in a matter of seconds and made it impossible for people to find a way out. Most of the bodies were found inside the club bathroom, which was mistaken as an exit.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Graça Adjuto

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