As some of my readers know, I was gone from St. Louis for a good solid decade, from August 1996 to December 2006. Up in Kirksville for undergrad, I rarely knew what was happening back in St. Louis, back when the internet was still in its infancy. I had never heard of this fire, and a little research revealed that they were the victims of revenge, when a man, who had been assaulted by a man and woman who believed he had robbed them the week before, returned with gasoline, starting a fire that killed those six children. He’s in prison now, for a long time, but that doesn’t bring them back. The man and woman he sought to kill? They weren’t even home at the time.
A vacant lot on Salisbury Street (Update: a reader corrected me that the building is still standing and is now renovated) and this black granite plaque is the only physical reminder of that horrible crime. A Post-Dispatch editorial from the time spoke well on the incident (bold text my addition):
In the silent reverence of their grief, some also marvel at the sense of community and acceptance around them, in a city neighborhood often known only for its violence and poverty. They know and comfort each other. They hug and mourn together. And all of St. Louis – a metropolitan area that celebrates its distance from places like Hyde Park – mourns with them.
What if we mourned this way every time a child died in our city? What if we comforted city children this way every time they lost someone to a violent death? What if we agonized this way every time an 18-year-old city student like Mr. Stokes quit school and turned to crime?
Many city kids face violence and death daily, with no memorials to mark their pain, no teddy bears to console them. What if we channeled our grief over the six Hyde Park children who died into compassion for their city classmates, neighbors and friends – the children of our city who are dying slowly, day by day?