The Kiss nightclub tragedy completes 10 years of the fight against oblivion

One of the portraits that Maria Aparecida Neves, stage name Cida, 64, shows of her son on a desk is from the night of the tragedy. Augusto Cesar Neves, 19, wears a blue, black and white striped shirt. I smile next to two teenagers and my friend Luiz Eduardo Viegas Flores, 24, as I leave a barbecue.

The possible stretch up to the Kiss nightclub, Cida says, was uncertain until a few minutes earlier. They decided to host the two young women, foreigners in Santa Maria (RS).

“When it was about 10:30, he entered the house. I thought, ‘Oh, thank God. He’s not going.’ But he just dropped by the house to change his shirt and he said hello to us,” Cida says.

The fire at the Kiss nightclub, which turns ten next Friday (27), moved Brazil and the world because it materialized the greatest fears of Cida and many parents: that their children would go out to have fun and never come back .

That night, crowds at the club caused the pair of friends to leave early. After the fire, Luiz Eduardo and Augusto were among 242 young people who did not return home.

The median age of the fire victims was just 23 years old. Most suffered from asphyxiation due to the toxic gases released by burning the foam lining installed irregularly on the site and which was reached by the flames of a pyrotechnic device ignited during the concert of the Gurizada Fandangueira band. There were also 636 wounded.

However, over the past decade, family members, survivors, and friends of victims have lamented that the immense and immediate empathy in the college town has transformed.

Today they fight to preserve the memory of the tragedy, inside and outside their homes, and face increasingly aggressive compatriots, who defend that the Kiss chapter in the history of the municipality of Rio Grande do Sul with 285,000 inhabitants is closed – even if there is no not even a person held responsible for the accident.

The popular jury that had sentenced two entrepreneurs, a musician and a stage assistant to sentences of between 18 and 22 years in prison was annulled seven months later by two judges for procedural defects. The public prosecutor’s office appeals the annulment before the Superior Court of Justice and the Federal Supreme Court, but there is no deadline for a decision or for a new trial.

fear of forgetting

Until Augusto’s death, shortly after passing the IT entrance exam, Cida only showed a photo of her son, still an infant, on his one-year-old birthday in framed portraits. Today there are 15 around the wooden house in Vila São João Batista, one banner that leads to demonstrations for justice and one on the pendant of his necklace. Many others are printed to be perused at length, occasionally, in an empty room.

“At my age, I’m afraid I’ll forget what it was like. Some say this pile of photos is worse. For me, it’s not. I like to imagine what it would be like today. Watching a TV report on technology and knowing it would worked today,” says Cida.

Feelings like yours are driving initiatives such as the “Tempo Perdido” exhibition, mobilized by a collective of friends of the victims – called Kiss: Que não se repetit – which raised funds and hired a graphic designer to simulate in photography what eight victims would look like today.

On January 27, at 7 pm, the photographs will be exhibited in Saldanha Marinho square, as part of the program of events for the tenth anniversary of the tragedy. Between January 25 and 28, the city will also host actions such as a vigil, a mass, conferences and the public screening of the first chapter of the documentary “Boate Kiss – A Tragédia de Santa Maria”, which will premiere on the same day 26 Global game.

“I frown when I go to work in shirts like this [alusiva aos sete anos do incêndio]. A lot of people just don’t want to be reminded of Kiss, even though there’s nothing to stop something like this from happening again,” says Sindi Caroline Chaves, 28, a member of the collective.

Cida also mentions preventing new tragedies as a key point in Kiss’ memoir. He mentions two recent fires similar to the one in Santa Maria, which happened by chance two days apart. On January 21, 2022, a failure of pyrotechnic equipment, still under investigation, caused 20 injuries in a resort in Cesário Lange (SP). On the 23rd, in Cameroon, the flame of a firework hit the ceiling of a discotheque in the capital Yaoundé, killing 16 people.

Four months ago, after the critical phase of the Covid pandemic, the AVTSM (Association of Victims and Survivors of the Tragedy of Santa Maria Families) resumed its vigil in the center of Santa Maria, in a marquee displaying a banner with photos of the 242 victims. Family members perform a monthly act, always on the 27th.

They report greater hostility, with unfriendly looks from passers-by and criticism on social media. “‘Don’t let them rest’, they tell us. Now the trailer is out on Netflix and I had to stop reading the comments” says Marilene Santos, vice president of AVTSM, referring to the miniseries “Todo Dia a Mesma Noite”, based on the homonymous book by journalist Daniela Arbex.

Marlene, who lost her youngest daughter Nathiele dos Santos Soares, 21, and her son-in-law, Alan Raí de Oliveira, 26, sees no rest without someone being held responsible for the hundreds of deaths.

“They order us to remove the tent from the square, they say we want money, we want revenge. We don’t want revenge, we want justice. To have rest, we must first end it [o processo]”, says Nathiele’s mother.

In these ten years, Marilene finds it increasingly difficult to find solidarity even from the closest family members, who insist on the fact that “nothing will make them come back”.

But the sunken chest of desire is still a constant for her. Her feeling worse on Sundays, days when her daughter visited her, and sometimes it takes her by storm. The last time was when she found an old note in her daughter’s handwriting lost in a drawer, written on the back of a cake recipe. It has become a relic.

Overcoming trauma beyond the courtroom

Another unanimity among family members is fatigue, accentuated by the advancing age of the parents – six of them have died since 2013 – and by the frustration of the annulment of the sentence, last August. Something survivor and popular jury witness Maike Adriel dos Santos, 30, classifies as “psychological torture.”

“So far the only ones punished for the tragedy are us. We are and continue to be punished. But I will find the strength to testify ten more times if necessary,” says the young man who lost seven friends the first and only time he joined Kiss .

In addition to Maike, now an industrial design graduate who has devoted his TCC to studying the nightclub environment in terms of safety, young people like Kelen Ferreira, an occupational therapist who had her leg amputated due to injuries sustained in fire and who has become a PCD influencer, and the psychologist Gabriel Rovadoschi Barros, 28, who, after eight years with virtually no mention of the tragedy, assumed the presidency of AVTSM.

“I went through different phases in those ten years. It was the first time I went to a nightclub, and there I lost a lot of my youth. The things I was supposed to experience in my 20s ended up moving me. Look him in the eye,” she says Gabriel.

Gabriel says he is attentive and dissatisfied with the progress of the process in the Rio Grande do Sul court, but intends to give priority to two other points at the head of the association: taking care of each other and fighting for safe spaces to talk about the trauma in the city. One of them may turn out to be the kiss itself.

Expropriated in 2017 by the Municipality of Santa Maria, the interior of the nightclub was kept as evidence in the trial. The facade of the building has been graffitied with charges to the 1st Criminal Section of the Court of Justice of the RS, where the judges responsible for annulment work.

The facade has also received numerous posters and messages from children, all faded from years of scorching sun. A memorial project to be carried out after the demolition of the disco has already been approved, but the possibility of a new trial has brought greater uncertainties.

There are family members who defend Kiss to stay that way until justice is done, as an emblem. Gabriele is among those who prefer that the memorial be built quickly and serve as reflection and denunciation. Because the story of Kiss is no longer ignored and begins to be told to the new generations as soon as possible, even if without a point of arrival.

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