3 Seton Hall Funerals Held

Leela James
More than 800 mourners turned out Monday for the funeral of one of the three 18-year-old victims of last week's dormitory fire at Seton Hall University.

Frank Caltabilota's former classmates from Seton Hall and Shore Regional High School - some wearing their varsity letter jackets - plus relatives and other friends overflowed St. Jerome Roman Catholic Church for the funeral Mass. Caltabilota was a star football and baseball player at Shore Regional.

Funeral services also were held Monday in their hometowns for John N. Giunta of Vineland and Aaron C. Karol of Green Brook. A public memorial service will be held Tuesday at the university where all three were freshmen.

However, a memorial service on the Seton Hall campus scheduled for Tuesday was postponed two days because of a snowstorm, reports CBS Radio station WCBS-AM.

Caltabilota was remembered by his brother and girlfriend as someone who always put others' interests before his own.

"You touched the lives of so many people, even if you'd only known them five minutes," said Erin Brown, 18, Caltabilota's girlfriend in a eulogy.

Karol's former classmates at Watchung Hills Regional High School read poems today at his service, and wore their high school soccer jackets in memory of the varsity player.

"We say that Seton Hall is a family, and it is. We, like yourselves, have lost a son," Seton Hall chancellor Thomas Peterson told Karol's relatives during the funeral Mass at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church.

About 500 mourners attended Giunta's funeral Monday at St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Vineland.

"John will be with us always," Seton Hall's president, Monsignor Robert Sheeran, told mourners at Giunta's service.

The fire broke out around 4:30 a.m. Wednesday on the third floor of Boland Hall, a six-story dormitory that housed 640 people.

Five of the 62 students who were injured remained hospitalized Monday. Four were in critical condition with burns and the fifth was in stable condition.

Investigators have been interviewing students and others. Essex County Prosecutor Donald Campolo has said arson, careless smoking or electrical problems have not been ruled out.

Published reports said that Seton Hall's public relations team held strategy meetings within hours of the blaze to discuss preserving the university's reputation.

At least one public relations firm was contacted within 24 hours of the fire to prepare a plan to deflect charges that the university had been negligent in its fire safety training, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported Sunday.

In a statement, Seton Hall officials said they hired a marketing communications firm one day after the fire to poll colleges and universities about dorm sprinkler systems. The poll, which surveyed 37 colleges in seven states at random, showed 45 percent of campus dormitories were not equipped with srinklers.

Despite the hiring, Seton Hall spokeswoman Lisa E. Grider told the newspaper it's "too early for us to be thinking about" the school's image while students remain hospitalized.

The dorm where the fire started was built before laws required sprinklers in new campus dorms. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said Sunday she plans to introduce legislation to require sprinklers be installed in all campus dorms.

"You have to protect them where they are. We can't count on them evacuating," said Dan Jones, fire chief in Chapel Hill, N.C., who has led a national campaign to install sprinklers in campus housing since a 1996 fraternity fire killed five people at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

While most university handbooks detail fire procedures and most dormitory staff hold fire safety talks, few students pay attention, Jones said.

"Experience tells me that 18- to 24-year-olds have a sense of immortality," Jones said. "You're just not going to get them to pay close attention to safety lessons."

At Seton Hall, many students said they didn't leave when the alarm sounded because they thought it was another false alarm - there have been 17 this school year.