When David Foster was stumped about a costume for Halloween two years ago, he turned to his friend David Bragdon, the jovial dishwasher at the Great Lost Bear on Forest Avenue in Portland.

Foster took Bragdon’s advice. He put on a suit and put a sign around his neck that said, “I’m Sorry.” And when people asked? “I’m a formal apology,” said Foster.

Bragdon died on the morning after that Halloween, one of six people killed in an apartment building fire in Portland’s Oakdale neighborhood. On Sunday, while many in the community focus on another Halloween, Foster will gather with other friends and family members of the victims in Oakdale’s Longfellow Park to commemorate the second anniversary of Maine’s deadliest fire in decades.

The second annual Stars of Light memorial service will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. This year, the anniversary comes about two weeks after a Portland judge found landlord Gregory Nisbet guilty of a misdemeanor code violation, but not guilty of six counts of manslaughter.

Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren’s verdict angered family members and friends of the victims, who believed Nisbet’s neglect of the property led to the deaths.

Nisbet is still facing sentencing for the code violation, and that has not yet been scheduled.

He also is facing lawsuits filed by some of the relatives of victims.

The victims included Noyes Street residents Bragdon, 27, Nicole Finlay, 26, and Ashley Thomas, 29. Steven Summers, 29, of Rockland, Maelisha Jackson, 23, of Topsham and Christopher Conlee, 25, of Portland, were visiting the house for a Halloween party and also died.

This year’s event is unscripted and will be more intimate than last year’s to allow time and space for people simply to gather and share their memories and work through their emotions, which are still raw, said Foster, who was also friends with Finlay.

He hopes people will gather in a circle, perhaps listen to a couple of acoustic performances and share their memories either with the whole group or with one another.


“I’ve been fighting structure the entire time to make it available to people,” he said. “It’s really about getting the group together and remembering the people for who they were and not just the tragic thing (that) happened.”

Last year’s remembrance featured a weeks-long lighting display designed by Portland artist Pandora LaCasse and a formal program of speeches and performances. LaCasse designed six decorative lights symbolizing each of the victims that were hung from a tree and lit from dusk to 9 p.m. from Nov. 1 to Jan. 30.

Planning for last year’s memorial, however, especially the addition of electricity into the park, became a source of conflict in the neighborhood for well over a year. That controversy led the city to lay the groundwork for the electricity, then suddenly halt all work after Councilor Edward Suslovic and School Board member and abutter Laurie Davis became involved.

The city eventually moved forward with the project work to add the electricity, before ultimately removing it this summer at Suslovic’s insistence. The entire project cost more than $3,000. The city initially billed Summers’ widow, Ashley Summers, who chaired the memorial committee in 2015, for the work, before waiving the fee.

The conflict prompted the city to adopt new rules for temporary art displays citywide. And neighbors continue to be at odds over even minor upgrades to the park, including making the pathways handicapped-accessible.

One neighborhood resident, Carol Schiller, launched a petition effort to restore electricity to the park for this year’s ceremony, but it was a fight Foster wanted to avoid.

“That felt like a political battle to me and I didn’t really want to get involved in that,” Foster said. “My concern with the event is honoring my friends.”


Nikki Thomas said her family will be unable to travel to Portland from their home in Gilford, New Hampshire, for the memorial. But they keep the memory of her daughter, Ashley, alive every day, she said.

Thomas recalled Ashley’s passion for wedding photography, which allowed her to document the love and joy of others. She also recalled her daughter’s ability to make people smile.

“Ashley loved her family and friends more than anything in this world, and of course her dog, Daisy. Ashley enjoyed life to the fullest in everything she did. Ashley had a very vibrant personality,” Thomas said. “As the second year approaches we still find it extremely hard to believe that Ashley was taken from us at such a young age. So much was taken away from our family with the loss of Ashley.”

Even though there will be no lights for the “Stars of Light” memorial, Foster said the title is still apt, as it speaks to the kindness, generosity and general exuberance for life that each of the victims had.

Bragdon was a musician interested in electronic dance music. He was working toward becoming a musician, like his father, who owns his own business in Rockland.

“They just shone so bright,” Foster said of those who died. “This has really made me think about my own internal stuff and try to be more kind and generous to people. I would not be moving down that road the way I am if I didn’t have these people in my life.”

Correction: This story was updated at 10:36 a.m. on November 2, 2016 to correct the age of Ashley Thomas.