Dec 31, 2010 4:44 PM by Chris Welty
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Identities of four of the eight young people
who died when the abandoned warehouse they used for shelter went up
in flames were released Friday by New Orleans' coroner.
Jonathan Guerrero, 20, from Texas; Melissa Martinez, 17, from
Scotts Valley, Calif.; Jeffrey Geerts, 22, from Abbotsford, Wis.;
and Katie Simianer, 21, from Alliance, Neb., all died of carbon
monoxide poisoning. Coroner's spokesman John Gagliano said
Guerrero's home town was unavailable.
Tuesday's fire happened around 2 a.m. as temperatures in New
Orleans dropped below freezing. Firefighters said earlier this week
that the victims had set a fire inside the building to stay warm
and that carbon monoxide fumes likely rendered them unconscious.
The fire went out of control early Tuesday, destroying the building
and burning the bodies so badly that firefighters couldn't
determine age or gender.
Gagliano said the coroner's office had been following leads and
seeking dental records to positively identify the remains so that
families could be notified.
But while identities have not been confirmed by authorities, the
victims were known among a loose-knit community of young drifters,
many of them self-styled artists, poets or musicians, who have
wandered to and from the scene of the fire over the last few days.
They have created a makeshift memorial: beer cans, energy drinks,
candles, stuffed animals and other trinkets centered around a
hand-scrawled "Homeless and Hungry" sign.
"I knew most of them," Ben Daniels, who declined to give his
age or hometown, said in a telephone interview. Daniels, who
frequents a local aid center that helps homeless or intinerant
youths with counseling, food, job referrals and other aid, said the
victims were among an ever-changing group of teenagers and young
adults who travel the country, sometimes hitchhiking or
ride-sharing or hopping freight trains.
While some may be escaping troubled or abusive families, others
simply want to see as much of the world as they can, he said.
"They're just lovers of life," he said.
"A lot of these kids are not really homeless. They're just
traveling," he added. "You're going to find there's no norm."
While New Orleans has a shortage of beds for homeless or
transient people, the city does work with emergency shelters on
nights when the temperature nears freezing to provide temporary,
warm places to stay. But many of the youthful travelers reject them
for a variety of reasons, Daniels and others who work with the