Nearly 200 people gathered in a Portland park Sunday evening to remember the lives of the six young adults who were killed in an apartment building fire on Noyes Street one year ago.

The memorial service, held at Longfellow Park on Longfellow Street, drew the victims’ families, friends, co-workers and neighbors, along with several city firefighters who tried but could not save the victims in what turned out to be the state’s deadliest fire in three decades.

Also attending the service were Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, several city officials and local clergy members.

The gathering was held in the park under a linden tree that was adorned with a bright blue light sculpture – six “stars of light” radiating in the darkness. The display was designed by Portland artist Pandora LaCasse.

“One year ago, we stood in this same park and our hearts were filled with grief,” Allen Ewing-Merrill, pastor of the HopeGateWay church on Forest Avenue, told the crowd. “One year later, we still carry that grief with us, the sadness and the loss.”

But Ewing-Merrill said there is hope.

He pointed out that the linden tree’s leaves are heart-shaped, a reminder of the love that filled the hearts of those gathered Sunday evening in Longfellow Park.

Longfellow Park is located off Forest Avenue, just a few hundred feet from the location of the Nov. 1, 2014 fire that claimed the lives of David Bragdon Jr., Christopher “Miles” Conlee, Nicole “Nikki” Finlay, Maelisha Jackson, Ashley Thomas and Steven Summers. All six victims were in their 20s and were just getting their careers started.

All that remains of the building at 20-24 Noyes St. is its stone and concrete foundation and about 5 feet of brick chimney.

The building was owned by Gregory Nisbet, who has been sued by all six families and faces manslaughter charges. According to court documents, there were no working smoke detectors inside the building and some rooms did not have alternative exits. One of the main exits was blocked by a bookcase.

Family members and friends presented a tribute to each fire victim during Sunday’s memorial service.

“She touched us. I love her. I still do. I keep thinking I haven’t seen my daughter in a year. It’s still hard to accept,” said Lou Thomas, Ashley Thomas’ father. “It’s the worst feeling in the world to lose a child. It’s a pain that is unimaginable.”

Thomas said his daughter was operating a wedding photography business with her friend Mat Garber at the time of the fire.

Thomas said he shaved his beard off Sunday because his daughter did not like it when he grew a beard.

“Till this day Ashley is still manipulating me and I love every second of it,” he said.

The fire started during the early morning hours of Nov. 1, 2014, the day after Halloween. It destroyed the two-unit apartment building at 20-24 Noyes St., which was full of people and operated more or less as a rooming house. Officials said there were five tenants and four guests in the building when a smoldering cigarette ignited the fire.

While five of the victims died inside the building, Summers awoke to a flame-filled room and then caught fire while trying to flee in his Halloween costume. Summers rolled in the street, and survived four more days before he died from the burns he suffered.

His widow, Ashley Summers, spoke at Sunday’s service along with his father, Larry Summers. They remembered Steven Summers as a man filled with life and energy. Summers came to Maine after enlisting in the Navy. That is how he met Ashley, who was in the Army at the time. The couple had two young daughters.

“They were the love of his life,” Larry Summers said of his grandchildren.

Debbie Jackson said her daughter, Maelisha, attended Ellsworth High School. She said that at an early age her daughter loved to dance.

“She had rhythm and she was so much fun to watch,” her mother said.

She said Maelisha moved to Portland “because she loved the excitement” of living in Maine’s largest city. “She was so excited about her future here,” Jackson said.

Bragdon worked at The Great Lost Bear, a popular restaurant on Forest Avenue. He grew up in Rockland and played in a band.

“He loved everything and everybody,” said Keegan Nee, who works at the restaurant as a waiter. Nee and several of Bragdon’s friends attended the service.

Finlay’s mother, Lisa LeConte Mazziotti, said her daughter loved to dance, listen to music and even did some acting and modeling.

“She was a beautiful soul,” Mazziotti told the crowd.

David Scott paid tribute to his younger brother, Christopher “Miles” Conlee, who was working several jobs while trying to find a niche in the music industry.

“From the moment Chris was born, his laugh was infectious,” Scott said. “He loved life.”

Sunday’s remembrance service was organized by the Noyes Street Fire Memorial Committee. After the service, a reception was held at the HopeGateWay church.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

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