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Second victim found in Jay Street rubble

The Jay Street Fire

Second victim found in Jay Street rubble

A second body has been found in the ruins of 104 Jay St., a week after a huge fire left several peop
Second victim found in Jay Street rubble
An ATF Agent uses a rake to sift through debris to look for evidence from the fire on Jay Street after human remains of a 2nd victim were found Thursday, March 12, 2015.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

A second body has been found in the ruins of 104 Jay St., a week after a huge fire left several people unaccounted for.

The remains of one person were recovered inside the apartment building across from City Hall on Thursday, according to Schenectady police Sgt. Matt Dearing. On Tuesday, remains of another victim were removed from the same building.

Both sets of human remains were sent to a medical examiner for identification, and that effort is still in progress.

There could be additional remains in the building, Dearing said.

“The family members missing loved ones were advised of the situation,” he said. “There are still people that may be unaccounted for.”

City firefighters and investigators with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are continuing to sift through debris to locate any additional remains, and also to help determine where the fire started and why.

About 60 people were displaced by the fire and seven were hospitalized. It is unclear how many people are unaccounted for.

“Detectives and ATF agents are going through the list of people who were alleged to live in both buildings,” Dearing said. “It’s a very time-consuming process. Both buildings were five and six stories tall, so there are a lot of apartments in each one, and it takes time to track everyone down.”

The investigation, under the direction of Schenectady Fire Chief Ray Senecal, is expected to continue into next week. Demolition of the buildings will not take place until the investigation is complete.

The focus of the investigation so far has been on 104 Jay St., where the fire started. The flames spread and gutted 100-102 Jay St.

Claire Morales, whose parents own Esmeralda Jewelry at 100 Jay St., said they have not been able to enter the business on the ground floor of the building since the fire. Morales is unsure if the business would be able to reopen at another location because everything is still inside.

“They won’t tell us anything about the damage or if we can get our stuff,” she said. “All of our jewelry and expensive machinery is in there. That’s 20 years of sacrifice. We can’t salvage anything at this point. If we can’t, I don’t think we can reopen somewhere else.”

Morales said her father was in the store when the fire broke out around 2 a.m. March 6. He was working late, taking inventory and doing his taxes.

“My dad was in there organizing the books for the accountant, and that’s when he saw the building was on fire and ran outside,” she said. “Me and my father are trying to find answers about what we can recover, but no one is giving us anything. We have no answers.”

Tara Kitchen at 431 Liberty St. has been closed since the fire. Aneesa Waheed, who owns the Moroccan restaurant with her husband, Muntasim Shoaib, said the restaurant has been closed at the direction of police and fire officials.

“We just kept checking in and just being told they didn’t want any foot traffic, and, of course, we could see what was going on, and we didn’t think it was appropriate for us to be open and then have people in the way,” Waheed said.

She said officials believed it was unsafe to operate the business. The couple lives above the restaurant with their two children. On Tuesday, she said fire and police officials told her to evacuate the home.

Waheed said she understands officials have been busy with the fire and its aftermath, but is confused about why she had to seek out officials to get direction. Waheed and her family are now staying with her parents in Niskayuna until they are told it’s safe to return home.

“They explained to me that basically, if the buildings were to collapse, our property was close enough to be hit by any debris that was either flying or bouncing,” she said. “We didn’t have any sort of written notice; we didn’t have people communicating in any sort of proper channel, in terms of, ‘OK, this is what the plan is.’ ”

Having the business closed since Friday has also had a big financial impact, Waheed said, as the restaurant is the family’s only source of income. She plans to meet with her restaurant employees today to try to figure out an interim plan.

Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority, said the group has reached out to all of businesses in the area of the fire to help them as the investigation blocks nearby streets.

“We want to retain all of these businesses and their jobs downtown,” he said. “We will be working with firms on an individual basis to help them until the area is reopened.”

Several officials were on the scene of the fire Thursday afternoon, including Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam. Carney said he has stopped by the scene several times to check out the investigation. He said he was not asked to be there in any official capacity.

Tonko, who was visiting City Hall as part of a water infrastructure tour, stopped by the scene across the street and discussed the investigation with ATF agents and Mayor Gary McCarthy. Tonko praised ATF and the leadership of McCarthy. He said he is thankful ATF is able to help with the investigation.

“This is very important to the community, and it’s good to have this skill and talent,” he said. “Whatever I can do to assist the community, residents and the families involved, we will do whatever we can. It’s devastating.”

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