Sadness, Anger Lingers One Week After Deadly Building Collapse

One week after six people were killed and 13 injured when a demolition went wrong, people continue to stop by the disaster to remember those lost

One week after brick, mortar and wood fell from the sky in Center City, Philadelphia, sadness and anger still grips the neighborhood.

“It’s just sad to see that someone had to lose their life because someone’s not thinking,” Patricia Hunt of Wynnefield said as she stood at 22nd and Market Streets Wednesday morning.

It was around 10:40 a.m. on June 5 when the four-story outer wall of 2136 Market Street crumbled onto the Salvation Army Thrift Store next door. Six people were killed in the collapse -- three employees and three patrons. The wall also buried 13 others throughout the store – including in the basement. They were eventually rescued by citizens and first responders.

Excavator operator Kane R. Robert, also known as Sean Benschop, stands charged in the collapse and now a grand jury is being convened to uncover whether other people should be held responsible. The city was quick to change regulations for demolition contractors after the collapse.

And seven days later, a large pile of rubble is all that is left.

The structures that remained partially standing after the fall have been leveled into a half-block wide mass of wood and brick. Glints of color from clothes and accessories that were once sold inside the Salvation Army shop dot the brown landscape. On one brick pile, a woman’s heel stands upright, with white tissue paper still neatly tucked inside.

The tragedy fresh in their minds, people stopped by the site early Wednesday to get a close look at the building’s remnants and remember those lost.

“I had to come by and see this for myself really to let it soak in a little more. You see it on the news, but just to come see it for real is really heartbreaking,” said Jim Maloney.

The Old City resident expressed his anger and frustration over the demolition practices that both citizens and experts have questioned.

“I hope, you know, L&I comes down on these people. It’s a travesty. These people didn’t have to die,” he said. “Just sucks all around.”

Chris Dougherty visited the site for the second time Wednesday. The attorney from Devon, Pa. says he first came here over the weekend.

“I’m just trying to pay respects. This is where people died, I’m just praying for the families really, the victims and the families,” he said.

“It’s just a shame, it really shouldn’t have happened, you know. I just hope justice prevails.”

A handful of people shared both men’s sentiments. Some shook their heads in disgust and anger as they stared down the ruins during their walk to work. Others stopped and offered up quiet remembrances at a simple memorial of flowers, candles, stuffed animals and flags for the victims.

At the center of the display is a wooden shipping pallet. Leaning up against the site’s chain link fence, printed photos of one of the victims, Kimberly Finnegan, are pasted to its front -- messages from loved ones handwritten underneath.

Beatrice Santorini knelt by the memorial as she reorganized bouquets of daisies and lilies knocked down by the wind. Afterward, the Penn linguistics professor recounted how she was at the thrift shop just an hour and a half before the deadly collapse.

“The last time I made a donation (to the Salvation Army) was at 9 o’clock a week ago,” she said.

A regular of the one-story thrift shop, she said it’s still hard to imagine that if the wall collapsed sooner, she could have been buried.

“I’ve been sad and I’ve been grieving and I’ve been angry at various people and also angry at myself,” she said. Santorini says she knew the building was being demolished, but never questioned the work – adding that she could have let herself walk “blindly” into a disaster.

“It didn’t occur to me that the wall could have come down,” she said.

Santorini, like others, now hopes the collapse will become a catalyst for change in the way demolitions are handed in Philadelphia.

“I’m glad new regulations are in place, I’m glad the grand jury is investigating."

While a stoic reminder of death and failure, the ruins are not expected to remain for long. Contractors were out surveying the site with officials from the Department of Licenses & Inspections Wednesday afternoon bidding for the chance to remove the rubble. That work could start by Thursday.

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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