Happy Land Fire Killer JULIO GONZALEZ Denied Parole Just Before Tragic Bronx Fire’s 25th Anniversary. Annual Memorial Mass Scheduled for WEDNESDAY March 25th 2015

 

Copyright 2015 by Teofilo Colon Jr.  (a.k.a. “Tio Teo” or “Teofilo Campeon”) All Rights Reserved. Telephone: (646) 961-3674.

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Bronx, New York — Julio Gonzalez, the man responsible for setting the infamous Happy Land Social Club Fire, was denied his first opportunity at freedom just before the 25th Anniversary of that tragic Bronx Fire.

New York Post coverage of The Happy Land Social Club Fire.

New York Post coverage of The Happy Land Social Club Fire.

On March 25th 1990, Mr. Julio Gonzalez, 36 years old, was kicked out by bouncers of The Happy Land Social Club, an unlicensed social club in the East Tremont / West Farms section of the Bronx, after having an argument with ex-girlfriend Lydia Feliciano.  He returned with $1 worth of gasoline, and poured the gasoline around the door to the Happy Land Social Club and set it on fire.  87 partygoers and employees of the Happy Land Social Club were killed by this fire.

Julio Gonzalez, who set fire to the only known exit of The Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx.

Julio Gonzalez, who set fire to the only known exit of The Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx.

Last week, I was able to obtain and read the transcript of this Parole Board hearing and it certainly is interesting.  The transcript details that the Parole Board Hearing was took place on Tuesday, February 17th 2015  by video conference between the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York  and the Parole Board based in Albany, New York.  Mr. Julio Gonzalez had an interpreter on hand and spoke freely.

Mr. Julio Gonzalez, now 60, claims he was angry at the man (a bouncer?) who told him to leave the Happy Land Social Club and threatened to hit him.  He added that he wasn’t thinking about what he was doing and also didn’t realize how many people were inside the club.  When pressed on whether he knew that there were people inside, he replied,

“Well, when I got there, there were some people there but, you know, there was two floors there, I didn’t know that there were two floors in that place.” — Julio Gonzalez

New York Daily News Coverage of The Happy Land Social Club Fire.

New York Daily News Coverage of The Happy Land Social Club Fire.

The Parole Board goes on to explain that upon reviewing Mr. Julio Gonzalez’s disciplinary history they found that he hasn’t had any disciplinary action against him since 2001.  Also, there hasn’t been any drug related disciplinary action since 2000 and his last weapons charge was in 1999.

At this point in the interview, he’s asked if he WAS released on parole, where would he live and how would he support himself?  Mr. Julio Gonzalez claims that a woman (the transcript is redacted here, so I can’t tell whether it is a relative or friend) who found him on the internet would help him. In fact he could stay with her until he found a place to live in.

As far as work is concerned, Mr. Julio Gonzalez was asked if he reached out to community organizations to help him find work and help him adjust to outside life again, and he replied that he hadn’t.  Then the interviewer states that a big concern for them is that “reentry due to unrealistic expectations regarding employment is a possibility for you”.  He explained that he hasn’t gotten his G.E.D. in his 25 years at the prison due to not knowing English.  Finally, he added that he has dedicated his life to Jesus Christ and that has changed his life.

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After deliberation, The Parole Board’s decision was to deny Mr. Julio Gonzalez parole because of “a reasonable probability you would not live at liberty without again violating the law and furthermore, your release would be incompatible with the welfare of society.”  Also, despite his disciplinary record, that his “release plan is inadequate”.  The Parole Board went on to urge that he “remain discipline free and work on your release plans.  The panel suggests that you reach out to community programs that can help you with reentry.”

Most of the Party-goers inside the two-floor club died from smoke asphyxiation  or were trampled to death as everyone tried running to the lone narrow staircase leading to the only known exit.

PAGE 1

Page 1 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Page 1 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Transcript of Parole Board Hearing in the Matter of JULIO GONZALEZ  DIN# 91A7544

Type of Interview INITIAL

Held At: Clinton C.F.

Video Conference to

97 Central Avenue

Albany, New York

Held On: February 17th 2015.

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Before:  Commissioner Ferguson, Commissioner Elovich, Commissioner Hallerdin

Present at Albany: C. Liberty, Sorc; K. Kellett, ORC

Present at Clinton: K. Recore, Orc; B. Rankin, ORC

Interpreter: Wilma Alvarado-Little

Verbatim Reporter: Susan Fischler

PAGE 2

Page 2 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Page 2 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

BY COMMISSIONER HALLERDIN

Q. Is this Mr. Julio Gonzalez?

A. Si.

Q. Mr. Gonzalez, do you need an interpreter, sir?

INTERPRETER: Yes, ma’am.

Q. We have an interpreter here, sir.  I am going to ask the interpreter to introduce herself and I need to know if you will accept her as your interpreter, sir.

INTERPRETER: Yes.

Wilma Alvarado-Little.

Q. Mr. Gonzalez, I am Commissioner Hallerdin.  Present with me today on your panel is Commissioner Ferguson and Commissioner Elovich.

COMMISSIONER ELOVICH: Hello

COMMISSIONER FERGUSON: Hello.

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Q. I have, sir, this is an initial appearance for you.  You are currently incarcerated for Murder second, Arson first and Assault first.  Your aggregated term is twenty-five years to life.

The count of murder is actually 174 counts of murder, running concurrent.  Involved were 87 actual murder victims.

The description of the offense is as follows:  In 1990, you caused death of 87 victims and physical injury to seven others.  You set a fire to a building that was operating a dance club called The Happy Land.

PAGE 3

Page 3 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Page 3 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Q (continued). You had a dispute with your former paramour, she asked you to leave.  The club’s bouncer ejected you from the building.  You then went to a gas station, purchased gas and returned to the club.  You waited until no one was at the club entrance, poured gasoline in the hall that was in between the two-door entrance and the exit, and you started a fire.  You were aware that the building contained a lot of people.  In fact, at that time, it had almost been characterized at the most…how can I explain it?  Something that had taken the most number of victims at one time.  It was classified as the largest mass murder that had happened up to date.  Now, I have, sir–you are how old now?

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INTERPRETER: Sixty years.

Q. How old were you when you did this, sir?

INTERPRETER: Thirty-six years.

Q. So you weren’t a young person.  Okay.  Why the anger, sir?

INTERPRETER: Well, the anger was towards the man that reacted to me that had me leave, that told me to leave.  He told me that he was going to hit me.  And I told him I was going to leave but I was coming back.

Q.  And, you did?

INTERPRETER: At that moment I wasn’t

PAGE 4

Page 4 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Page 4 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

INTERPRETER (continued): thinking about what I was doing.  That’s true, that’s true, that’s true.  And so I did get the gasoline.  But regarding the club, I didn’t realize how many people were inside.

Q: You knew there were people inside, though?

INTERPRETER: Well, when I got there, there were some people there but, you know, there was two floors there, I didn’t know that there were two floors in that place.

Q: Okay.  Let’s talk about now.  I have reviewed your disciplinary history, and to your credit, you have had no disciplinary history, and to your credit, you have had no disciplinary since 2001.  I also note you have not had any drug related disciplinary since 2000.  Also, I noted your last weapons charge was in 1999.

Sir, you were released on parole, where would you live and how would you support yourself?

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INTERPRETER: Well, first of all with my ———— (redacted) she’s my ——————– (redacted).  She found me through the Internet.

Q. Uh-huh.

INTERPRETER: And she’s been helping me since the time we found each other.

Q. And how would you support yourself?  Did you work out there before?

INTERPRETER: Yes, I was working

PAGE 5

Page 5 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Page 5 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

INTERPRETER (continued): before.  I worked in Long Island and I worked in a lamp factory.

Q.  Have you reached out to any community organizations that can help you find work or help you adjust to outside life again?

INTERPRETER: No, I haven’t, just my ————– (redacted).  She said if I got out, I could stay at her home until I found an address.

Q. Okay.  Now we don’t have your sentencing minutes.  That’s not part of this record.  However, we make a ruling that a due diligent effort was made to try and get them.

Now, I have your COMPAS Risk Assessment.   And your COMPAS has you basically where you would want to see someone: Low risk of felony violence, low arrest risk, low abscond risk.

In fact, this is your first New York State incarceration, correct?

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INTERPRETER: Yes, ma’am, yes.

Q. What jumps off the page for us is the fact that reentry due to unrealistic expectations regarding employment is a possibility for you.

You have been incarcerated now how long, sir?

INTERPRETER: Twenty-five years.  This month, on the 25th, it will be 25 years.

PAGE 6

Page 6 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Page 6 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Q. Okay. A long time.

INTERPRETER: A long time, yes.

Q. So you are going to need some help adjusting to the community.  Things have changed in 25 years.

INTERPRETER: Yes, in 25 years the world has changed a lot.

Q.  That’s right.  And that’s why I was asking you, have you reached out to any community programs that can also help you in your community programs that can also help you in your community adjustments, because you are going to need some support and help out there, sir.

Now, currently you are in your education program?

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INTERPRETER: No, I work, I’m working.

Q. Okay. They have you here as academics and working.

INTERPRETER: Yes, both things.

Q.  So you are doing both?

INTERPRETER: Yes.

Q. Have you been able to get your GED at all?

INTERPRETER: No, I didn’t get it because I don’t understand English.

Q. Okay.  And, you found no way to start to learn English while you have been incarcerated for 25 years+

INTERPRETER: Well, since it was the first time I was incarcerated, in 25 years, you know, I don’t speak English.

PAGE 7

Page 7 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Page 7 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

INTERPRETER (continued): With my case, at first I was okay.  But thank God, I have dedicated my life to Jesus Christ and that has changed my life.

COMMISSIONER HALLERDIN: Okay.  Commissioner Ferguson, anything you would like to ask?

COMMISSIONER FERGUSON: I just would add that, although the report says no to DA letter, there is a DA letter.  And I would also note that the file contains community opposition to your release.

And sir, at the time of the offense, you were what, 36, 35?

INTERPRETER: Thirty-six.

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COMMISSIONER FERGUSON: No other questions.  Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HALLERDIN: Commissioner Elovich?

COMMISSIONER ELOVICH: No, Thank You.

COMMISSIONER HALLERDIN: Mr. Gonzalez, that you for appearing before this panel.  You will hear from this panel in the form of a written decision.  Good luck to you, sir.

INTERPRETER: Thank you, thank you very much.

PAGE 8

Page 8 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Page 8 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

(Inmate was excused.) (Interpreter was excused.)

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(After due deliberation by the Parole Board panel, the following decision has been rendered:)

PAGE 9

Page 9 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Page 9 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

 

DECISION:

Parole denied.  Hold 24 months.  Next appearance November, 2016.  After carefully reviewing your record, a personal interview and due deliberation, this panel concludes that discretionary release is not presently warranted as there is a reasonable probability you would not live at liberty without again violating the law and furthermore, your release would be incompatible with the welfare of society.

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You stand convicted of the serious offense of 174 counts of murder, one count of arson and one count of assault. This is your first New York State incarceration.  The panel takes note of all statutory factors including your rehabilitative efforts and programming, risk and needs assessment, reentry plan, letters of support, community opposition, sentencing minutes and your improved disciplinary record.  The panel notes that you have not had a drug related discipline since 2000 and you have not had any disciplinary since 2001.  The panel also notes that you have been programming positively.  The panel feels that your release plan is inadequate.  At this time the panel has determined, after weighing all required factors, your discretionary release is denied.  The panel urges you to remain discipline free and work on your release plans.  The panel suggests that you reach out to

PAGE 10

Page 10 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Page 10 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

community programs that can help you with reentry.

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(All commissioners concur.)

PAGE 11

Page 11 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

Page 11 of Transcript of Julio Gonzalez Parole Hearing on February 17h 2015.

CERTIFICATION

I hereby certify that the proceedings and evidence are contained fully and accurately in the notes taken by me on the above cause and that this is a correct transcript of the same to the best of my ability.

Susan Fischler

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————————————————-

 

Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx after the Fire.

Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx after the Fire.

On August 19th 1991, Julio Gonzalez, a Cuban refugee, was convicted of 174 counts of murder–two for each victim– and was found guilty on 87 counts of arson and 87 counts of murder.  According to the Happy Land Fire entry on the wikipedia website, For each count, he received the sentence maximum of 25 years to life (a total of 4,350 years).  It was the most substantial prison term ever imposed in the state of New York.  He was eligible for Parole in March because New York law states that multiple murders occuring during one act will be served concurrently (at the same time), rather than consecutively (one after the other).  1

In the wake of The Happy Land Social Club, a New York City task force with 200 inspectors was formed to inspect and close dangerous locations.  Now that task force is known as MARCH (Multi Agency Response To Community Hotspots).

Mr. Julio Gonzalez’s next parole hearing is scheduled for November 2016.

Happy Land Fire Memorial Mass

The Memorial Mass in Commemoration of the Happy Land Social Club Fire will take place on WEDNESDAY, March 25th 2015 in the Bronx.

St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church at the 2013 Memorial Mass for Victims of The Happy Land Social Club Fire.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church at the 2013 Memorial Mass for Victims of The Happy Land Social Club Fire. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

The Memorial Mass will take place at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in the Bronx at 6pm.  The address is:

St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church

1900 Crotona Parkway

Bronx, New York 10460

(718) 893-7600

Subway: 2 or 5 Train to 174th Street Subway Stop

Parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in the Bronx at The 2012 Happy Land Memorial Mass.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

Parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in the Bronx at The 2012 Happy Land Memorial Mass. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

The Memorial Mass (sponsored by Community Board Six in the Bronx) is scheduled to begin at 7pm and end at approximately at 8pm.  There will be a reading of the names of the 87 victims of The Happy Land Social Club Fire, which took place early Sunday morning on SUNDAY, March 25th 1990 at approximately 3:38 in the morning.

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Typically, there is a procession from the Church to the Happy Land Memorial which is located on Southern Boulevard and East Tremont in the Bronx.  This takes place AFTER the Memorial Mass.

Happy Land Fire Memorial in the Bronx.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

Happy Land Fire Memorial in the Bronx. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

59 of the victims of the Happy Land Social Club Fire were from the country of Honduras.  According to a report in the New York Newsday Newspaper, 41 or 42 (70%) of the 59 Honduran victims were Garifuna.  2

A report in the New York Times Newspaper indicates that 20 of the victims came from other Latin American countries and 9 of the victims were U.S. Citizens, mostly from Puerto Rico.  3

I’ve attended three Happy Land Memorial Masses, from 2011 through 2013.  In that time, I’ve observed that while many of the victims of the Happy Land Social Club Fire were Garifuna, their presence at the Memorial Mass is seriously lacking, relatively speaking.  Who knows, perhaps it’s a matter of simply not knowing about the Memorial Mass. I wasn’t aware of Memorial Masses for Victims of The Happy Land Social Club Fire prior to 2010.  So please forward this link to anyone you know who may be interested in attending this Memorial Mass.

People have their own ways of mourning and perhaps some of the victims families may have moved on, but additional presence by the families of the many Garifuna victims of the Happy Land Fire would be welcomed.   Actual physical attendance at the Happy Land Fire makes a statement and frankly being there for one another makes a difference.

There a comprehensive posting on the Happy Land Social Club Fire on this website, it includes a chart with small profiles of some of the victims of the Happy Land Social Club Fire, along with VIDEO with local New York City newscasts on the tragedy.  4

Happy Land Fire Memorial in the Bronx. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Happy Land Fire Memorial in the Bronx. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

About Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York

Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York (March 11th through April 12th) is designed to reflect on and observe the occasion of the Garifuna people (then known as Black Caribs) being kicked out of their ancestral land of St. Vincent Island on March 11th 1797 to their arrival in Central America on April 12th 1797.  The dates reference the period of time where the Garifuna voyage took place between their ancestral land and their new place of residence, where a new life was forced upon them.

According to a press release from the non-profit organization the Garifuna Coalition USA Inc, Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York also,

“celebrates the great contributions of Garífuna-Americans to the fabric of New York City and New York State, and pays tribute to the common culture and bonds of friendship that unite the United States and the Garífuna’s countries of origin (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras Nicaragua and St Vincent and the Grenadines.)”.

The Garifuna Coalition adds, “New York City is home to the largest Garífuna Community outside of Central America!  However, although Garífunas have been migrating here in search of a better life since the 1930s; the community was virtually obscured until the Happy Land Social Club fire on March 25th, 1990.”  Most of the victims of that tragedy were Honduran, many were of Garifuna descent 5.

2015 Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York. (March 11th through April 12th). Logo by Ivan Moreira.

2015 Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York. (March 11th through April 12th). Logo by Ivan Moreira.

Overall, the idea is to pay tribute to the survival and resiliency of the Garifuna people and also highlight the contributions made by Garifunas to the state of New York and the United States of America.  Also, this as well as other activities taking place in New York during Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York are designed to further visibility of the Garifuna ethnic group to the general populace of New York City.

ABOUT The Garifuna People

The Garifuna people are people of African descent (in other words, Black people) whose ancestry can be traced to Africans mixing with Carib Indians and Arawak Indians on the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent. From this fusion of race and ethnicities in St. Vincent Island, a distinct culture and language arose.  They are noted for being one of the few (only?) peoples of African descent (again, in other words, Black people) in the Americas to have maintained aspects of their ancestral culture and full use of their ancestral language for everyday use over the course of hundreds of years.

After being defeated in war with the British on St. Vincent in 1796; 1004 men, 1779 women and 1,555 children for a total of 4,338 people (mostly Black Caribs, as the Garifuna people were then known) were captured and taken to Baliceaux, a small island, a rock, basically, off the coast of St. Vincent.  This took place from July 1796 through February/March 1797.  About 2,000 Garifunas died of a mysterious and very infectious fever while living on Baliceaux awaiting their fate.  6

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In early March 1797, the remaining Garifunas were loaded onto the HMS Experiment and other ships.  Once they were rounded up, the convoy were taken to a Bequia, which is another island off the coast of St. Vincent. They proceeded to go to Grenada to get water, then Jamaica for refueling, then finally Roatan, Honduras, arriving on April 12th 1797.

Finding much of Roatan unliveable, the Garifuna people petitioned officials representing Spain and it’s government (which controlled much of Central America at the time) to be allowed to move to the Honduran mainland.  Upon being allowed to move to the Honduran mainland, namely the port town of Trujillo, Honduras in May 1797; the Garifunas settled many towns and villages along the Caribbean coast of Honduras.  They also migrated to the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Belize (then known as British Honduras) and Nicaragua over the years.  Finally, Garifuna People have also migrated to the United States of America where generations have settled in cities like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.  Despite their mainly Spanish surnames, their culture and history are distinct from other Afro-American and Latino ethnic groups and it’s important to keep that in mind.

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted via the PAYPAL website so your potential donations are SAFE and SECURE.

Julio Gonzalez, the man responsible for the Happy Land Social Club Fire in 1990 was denied parole.

Julio Gonzalez, the man responsible for the Happy Land Social Club Fire in 1990 was denied parole.

 

Notes:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Land_fire
  2. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy An Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.
  3. Evelyn Nieves, “Refugee Found Guilty of Killing 87 in Bronx Happy Land Fire”, New York Times, August 20th 1991.
  4. http://beinggarifuna.com/?p=1322
  5. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy an Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.
  6. Nancie L Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pgs 21-23

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