‘Healing, remembrance and reflection’ begin at site of fatal 2013 building collapse

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In a spitting rain, they remembered the fatal building collapse that extinguished six lives bright with potential.

On Friday, nearly 100 people circled a podium set at 22nd and Market streets where, two years ago today, a freestanding, four-story wall “pancaked” onto a busy Salvation Army thrift store.

 

The somber, hourlong ceremony had its share of tears, including those of Philadelphia Treasurer Nancy Winkler, who choked up as she talked about Anne Bryan, the young daughter she lost and still misses terribly.

“Anne’s death has left a terrible void in our family which can never be filled,” said Winkler.

To help ease her pain and that of others, Winkler spearheaded an effort to build a memorial park along the narrow strip where the thrift store once stood.

The $1.3 million project, made possible after the Salvation Army donated the land to the city, will feature three, 8-foot granite pillars with six colored-glass windows.

Below each window will appear the name of one of the victims: Bryan, Rosaline Conteh, Borbor Davis, Kimberly Finnegan, Juanita Harmon and Mary Simpson.

As of Friday, the effort had garnered $650,000 in donations. During the ceremony, Mayor Michael Nutter announced that the city would kick in another $300,000.

“My hope is that our entire city can continue to try to move together in a process of healing, remembrance and reflection. And, certainly, a part of that process begins right here at this spot, on this hallowed piece of ground,” said Nutter.

On June 5, 2013, a freestanding brick wall undergoing demolition pancaked onto the thrift store, killing six and injuring 14 more.

Survivors and victims’ families have filed more than a dozen civil suits.

General contractor Griffin Campbell and Sean Benschop, an excavator operator, were each charged with third-degree murder for allegedly contributing to the collapse.

Prosecutors have argued that both men knew the site was a safety hazard after all lateral supports were removed from the wall that ultimately collapsed onto the busy retail shop at 22nd Street.

During February’s preliminary hearing, Plato Marinakos, the site’s architect, testified that he told Campbell the night before the collapse that the four-story wall had to be taken down.

An official with the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections testified at the same hearing that Benschop’s boss was cited last year after he found Benschop using a backhoe to demolish a South Philadelphia home flanked by two occupied properties, a violation of the city’s building code.

An unsupported wall was also found at the site, according to testimony.

Marinakos was granted immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for being a witness in the Philadelphia district attorney’s ongoing grand jury investigation into the collapse.

Campbell and Benschop’s lawyers have both called the men “scapegoats.” Both are scheduled to stand trial. Jury selection begins Sept. 21.

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