Memorial Placed for Student Killed in Allston Fire Suddenly Removed
Photos and flowers placed at the site where a house fire erupted in Allston last year, killing a Boston University student and injuring 15 others, were mysteriously removed this week. Now, the family is asking for the public’s help to get them back.
Mei Kwong, the mother of Binland Lee, 22, who died on April 28, 2013, when the “careless disposal of smoking materials” led to a three-alarm blaze at the Linden Street apartment building where she lived, traveled from New York this week to commemorate her daughter’s death one year after the tragedy.
Mei, along with friends, former roommates, and other family members, spent roughly $1,000 on flowers and other gifts to create a temporary memorial for Binland outside of the condemned building where she died, before they placed them at the scene on Monday.
Just hours after the family assembled the small remembrance in honor of Binland, someone removed them, however. More troubling, according to the family, was the fact that the memorial included pictures of Binland that were given to her mother as a graduation gift, which are also now gone. “The copies of the photos were the only versions Mei had. The photography company only keeps files of the photos for one year, so we are no longer able to order more prints. Mei desperately wants the photos returned, which we know is unlikely,” said Cait McAndrews, a friend of the girl’s family. McAndrews briefly lived in the same apartment building as Binland just months before the fire destroyed it. The two were close, and “did everything together” when they shared an apartment.
McAndrews spoke to Boston on behalf of the family due to a language barrier. But the family posted a distraught message to a Facebook page dedicated to their daughter after they discovered the items were missing this week. “We left the memorial for about two hours to add more flowers and candles to the memorial, and when we returned the memorial had been completely removed and the yard raked. We searched nearby trash bins and could not find any sign of the missing flowers and photographs,” the family said in a statement. “If you have any information regarding the stolen items, please contact us or Boston University Police Department. We will not let this keep us down. We love Binland and will continue to honor her.”
McAndrews said her friend, Binland, was killed in the house fire two weeks before she was supposed to graduate from BU last year. She said the incident has been hard for the family, who lives in New York, and this particular situation has not made it any easier—especially on the anniversary of the girl’s death. She said they think the building’s owner removed the items, because the area where the flowers, stuffed animals, photos, and candles were placed was raked over cleanly to make the yard appear undisturbed. McAndrews said she tried to reach out to the landlord in charge of the property to try and get information, but the person who answered the phone hung up on her on more than one occasion.
According to a Boston Globe article published at the time of Binland’s death, 19 people lived in the building at 87 Linden St. “A city ordinance prohibits more than four unrelated undergraduate students from sharing a dwelling; officials said at least six of the 19 residents were BU students,” the report said. As a result of the fatal fire, property owner Anna Belokurova was cited by the city for running an illegal rooming house.
Binland’s death put a microscope on housing safety regulations in the city, and brought up questions about overcrowding issues at certain properties where students live.
While she can’t be sure, McAndrews believes that Belokurova may have had someone sweep up the items to keep people from being reminded of the tragedy last year. “We think she is just trying to protect her reputation, but we think she was embarrassed and didn’t want to bring any more attention to it,” she said.
Several calls placed by Boston to Belokurova went straight to voicemail Wednesday afternoon. A message was left on her phone.
McAndrews said the family just wants the photos of Binland returned, since they don’t have any other copies. “My whole role is to bring as much solace to Binland’s family as I can. I just want to help them grieve. And if that means putting a memorial in front of the house, I don’t think that’s too much to ask happen,” she said.
The family returned to the site this week, prior to heading back to New York, to put up another memorial in their daughter’s name.