DANIEL SMITH/THE HOYA Alvaro Llanos (pictured) and Shawn Simons spoke about their experiences after their freshman dorm at Seton Hall University was set on fire by two arsonists in 2000 and stressed the importance of fire safety on campus in the ICC Auditorium on Tuesday. Llanos and Simons are the stars in the documentary “After the Fire.”
DANIEL SMITH/THE HOYA
Alvaro Llanos (pictured) and Shawn Simons spoke about their experiences after their freshman dorm at Seton Hall University was set on fire by two arsonists in 2000 and stressed the importance of fire safety on campus in the ICC Auditorium on Tuesday. Llanos and Simons are the stars in the documentary “After the Fire.”

Georgetown’s Office of Risk Management and the Georgetown University Student Association publicized the need for fire safety on college campuses with a screening of “After the Fire: A True Story of Heroes and Cowards” on Tuesday evening in the ICC Auditorium. Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos, the documentary’s stars, spoke at the event before the film began.

“After the Fire” tells the story of Simons and Llanos’ experiences after a Seton Hall University fire on Jan. 19, 2000 that occurred after two students started a fire in a freshman dorm at around 4:30 a.m. The students lit a bulletin board on fire as a prank, and the flames quickly spread across three couches in the common room lounge within less than five minutes, killing three students and injuring 58.

“The carnage of the innocent can never be forgotten. I think one of the things that makes it so, so memorable was that it was so senseless. It was an act of pure stupidity and pure cowardice, not malice, that caused this much carnage,” a police officer in the film said. “I think that is one of the things that gives the memory of this fire such staying power.”

After the fire, Simons and Llanos spent three weeks and three months, respectively, in comas. They suffered from severe burns and faced significant challenges both physically and emotionally during the recovery process.

“[Llanos’] whole identity is going to change, but what doesn’t change is the inside of him and that’s very difficult for people to realize,” a nurse said in the documentary.

The documentary not only followed Simons and Llanos through their personal journeys, but also included several of the court proceedings. Due to the nature of the crime, it took several years to convict the perpetrators.

The arsonists, Joseph LePore and Sean Ryan, were members of a fraternity at Seton Hall.

“They were known to be troublemakers. They had gotten into trouble earlier. We call them arsonists because they set this fire,” Simons said.

Seven years after the crime, LePore and Ryan admitted that they had set the fire in the common room. They were sentenced to five years in a juvenile correctional facility while they were in their mid-20s and released early on parole.

“To this day, they haven’t reached out to us and we haven’t reached out to them. The last time we saw them was in the courtroom,” Alvaro said.

Both Simons and Llanos now visit college campuses around the country to promote fire safety and bring awareness to the tragic fire that shaped their lives. They place a strong emphasis on the actions they could have done that night to get out safely.

“If we would have made a left that night and crawled to two doors down, we would have been able to get out with maybe just some smoke inhalation, but nothing that we went through,” Simons said. “It’s important that you think of those things in your everyday life.”

Simons and Llanos engaged in a question and answer session with Georgetown students, faculty and staff after the documentary ended.

GUSA President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) inquired about the number of states that still do not have laws set in place that require sprinklers in residence halls.

“I believe there are only five states in the country that have mandatory laws for sprinklers in residence halls,” Simons said. “I always say there is the potential for it to happen. … A great thing that happened was a lot of schools across the country started to look at the Seton Hall fire, but a lot of the things that started happening were off-campus fires. A lot of students are moving out and getting their own places in major cities across the U.S.”

While Georgetown does have sprinklers in all its residence halls, there is still a need for fire safety precautions in off-campus housing. In 2004, Georgetown student Daniel Rigby (MSB ’05) was killed in a fire at his townhouse on Prospect Street.

“Although we have not had a fire like the one at Seton Hall, Georgetown has well experienced tragedy regarding student fires with Daniel Rigby’s death,” GUSA Secretary for Health and Safety Nora West (SFS ’15) said. “Looking forward, Georgetown has sprinkler systems with all its residence halls, but not off-campus. While the Office of Neighborhood Life and the Friends of Daniel Rigby organization do a lot to provide fire alarms and fire extinguishers, we aren’t talking about second points of exit. If someone lives on the second or third floor of a house, how will they get out? We have to consider both the small kitchen fires and large fires that can occur.”

Mike Bergin (COL ’18) felt personally connected to the event because he was born in the same hospital as the burn victims were treated in, and attended Seton Hall Prep.

“After seeing the video, what hit me the most was [that] it was my community. I was born in that same hospital where they were,” Bergin said. “This event made me realize to actually take it seriously, especially after seeing all the photographs of the victims.”

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