2016-09-08 / Front Page

Community Mourns Tragedy

By Olga Enger


Ramon Arroyo was a jovial camper at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center this summer. He is seen here enjoying a snack at camp. (Photo contributed by the MLK Community Center) Ramon Arroyo was a jovial camper at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center this summer. He is seen here enjoying a snack at camp. (Photo contributed by the MLK Community Center) In the days following a catastrophic fire that took the life of a seven-year-old Middletown boy on Sept. 5, the community has rallied around the family with an outpouring of support as the fire department continues to look for answers.

When the fire broke out around midnight in the second floor bathroom of 566 East Main Road, Ramon Arroyo, 7, was in a bedroom with his 14-year-old sister, Leilaney Arroyo. Violent flames prevented the siblings from opening the door, so Leilaney jumped out of the window. Her younger brother did not follow.

“She suffered significant injuries, but re-entered the house,” said Middletown Fire Chief Ronald Doire.

Middletown Police Officer Brendan Behan happened to be driving by on patrol, and noticed smoke billowing out of the house. The officer pushed through the door and found Leilaney, who was at that point unconscious from smoke inhalation. He located their 16-yearold sister, Cheyanne Arroyo, who was still sleeping and unaware of the fire.

“The actions of the police are truly heroic,” said Doire. “They took incredible risks to try to save the boy. But without the protective gear, they couldn’t enter the room.” The Middletown Fire Department arrived on the scene and removed Ramon. His parents, Banghy Morales and Ramon Arroyo, were called and they raced home.

First responders acted “amid complete chaos,” said Doire. Civilians tried to rush into the house and others screamed outside; Ramon’s father was pulled from the burning building, as he fought to enter the house and save his son. Flames created impenetrable barriers and heavy smoke clouded all visibility, said the chief.

Although firefighters were able to perform CPR and revive a heartbeat, Ramon had inhaled too much toxic smoke, said Doire. He died at 5:30 that morning. His sister Leilaney suffered considerable injuries and was hospitalized at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence.

In the days after the fire, Doire described the mood at the fire department as “complete devastation.”

“They are firefighters and they are supposed to save people,” said Doire. They did everything right and they tried their hardest, but they were still unable to save the child, said the chief.

“It affects them all a great deal, especially the firefighters who have children. After I had my daughter, my reaction to calls changed dramatically. To see children suffering, when you have your own, it’s heartbreaking. It’s devastating.”

Although the investigation is still open, Fire Marshal Robert McCall said a second floor smoke detector may have been removed or failed to operate, which led to a delay in the fire detection. The exact cause is still undetermined, but the fire appears to be accidental, according to preliminary findings.

Ramon, who just entered second grade this year, was known for his dimpled smile and compassionate nature.

Forest Avenue School Principal Stephen Ponte described his student as “wonderful, kind and happy.”

“Ramon was loved by all,” Ponte said. “He had a quick smile and had a kind manner to all his classmates. He is remembered by staff as a young boy who played with students of all ages. He was smart and always ready to learn.

On the days that followed the tragedy, Middletown schools made counselors available for students. Ramon’s classmates spent the day remembering their friend.

“Students have been fantastic, reflecting on their relationship with Ramon,” said Ponte. “Ramon was a special, smart, well-liked student.”

“A classmate of Ramon’s said that ‘he is now our compass,’” said Middletown Schools Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger. “What a poignant way to look at this loss.”

Ponte added the tragedy impacts the entire island.

“We will do our best to support the whole school community in a gentle manner that will promote the healing process,” the principal said. “We realize that any anxiety shown by our community is a normal reaction to this traumatic experience.”

The fire consumed the entire home and the family’s belongings. Although nothing can bring back their son, the Aquidneck Island community has rallied around the family. To assist with funeral expenses, the Middletown Town Council approved a donation of $2,500 at their Sept. 6 meeting. Forums on social media are flooded with prayers and calls to help.

To support the family, at least two fundraising efforts have been coordinated:

Islanders Caring Pasta Dinner to Benefit the Arroyo Family

The School Department, volunteers and local businesses have come together to organize a pasta dinner scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 14, 6-8:30 p.m. at Middletown High School. Suggested donations are $2 for an individual or $5 for a family, payable at the door. Any monetary and gift card donations will be accepted. Make checks payable to Banghy Morales. For more information, visit the Facebook event “Islanders Caring Pasta Dinner to Benefit the Arroyo Family.”

Additionally, gift card drop boxes will be placed in each school, Pruitt Chiropractic, Middletown Fire Department, Eye Care of RI, and the Martin Luther King Community Center in Newport. Only gift cards will be accepted at these locations (no cash or household goods).

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center Fundraiser

Over the years, all six children in the Arroyo-Morales family have participated in MLK programing, including preschool, afterschool or summer camp. Ramon was a student in this year’s summer camp. Ramon’s oldest sister, Olga Morales, is on staff in the center’s afterschool and summer camp programs.

Donations of cash, gift cards, clothing and household goods are being accepted at the MLK Community Center, 20 Dr. Marcus F. Wheatland Blvd., Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Make checks payable to Banghy Morales. All donations will go directly to the family; gift cards in any amount are needed to help replace lost possessions.

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