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Julio Gonzalez
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    (October 10, 1954-September 13, 2016)
    Born in Cuba
    Cuban refugee
    Arrived in the US with the Mariel boatlift (1980)
    Set a fire at Happy Land, an unlicensed social club in New York City (March 25, 1990)
    Blaze killed 87 people
    Convicted of 87 counts of murder and 87 counts of felony murder (August 19, 1991)
    Received 174 sentences of 25 years to life in prison
    Died in prison of an apparent heart attack
    He had been jailed in Cuba for deserting the army.
    He got into an argument with his ex-girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, a coat check girl at Happy Land, and was thrown out by a bouncer.
    An hour later, he returned with a container of gasoline, poured the fuel on a staircase that provided the only access to the club and ignited it.
    Carbon monoxide from the fire spread so fast that some of the victims were found with drinks still in their hands.
    It was the deadliest fire in New York City since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911.
    The Happy Land Fire occurred on the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.
    Lydia Feliciano was one of six survivors of the fire.
    The judge at his trial, Burton B. Roberts, noting the many safety violations at the club, commented, ‘There are many to be blamed, not just Julio Gonzalez.’
    The club lacked fire alarms or a sprinkler system and the fire exit had been blocked to prevent people from sneaking in without paying the cover charge.
    After the Happy Land fire, a city task force was formed to inspect social clubs and closed down hundreds that failed to meet safety standards.

Credit: C. Fishel

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