Just five months before the deadly Oakland blaze where at least 36 people perished Friday night, Derick Ion Almena, 46, the man who is considered the brains behind the “Ghost Ship” artists’ colony claimed to be “the thriller love child of Manson, Pol Pot and Hitler,” and said, “I can proverbally [sic] get away with murder.”
According to the East Bay Times, Almena made those comments during a 1,000-word Facebook rant where he indirectly alluded to being a drug user.
“Addictions never admitted armed me as revolutionary,” he wrote. “… as long as i seek help and healing, have current registration, pay my insurance, piss in a cup twice weekly … i can proverbally [sic] get away with murder.”
Almena also took to Facebook one day after the deadly fire to lament over losing “everything [he] worked so hard for.”
His comments quickly produced backlash and criticism, with people calling him a “bastard” and users brooding over the fact that he seemed to have placed greater value on his material possessions than the lives of those who died tragically.
Since media covered Almena’s posts, he appears to have deactivated his Facebook account.
On Monday, President Barack Obama released a statement on the devastating Oakland fire, referring to it as “one of the worst fires in the state’s history”:
Today our prayers go out to the people of Oakland, California in the aftermath of this weekend’s deadly warehouse fire – one of the worst fires in the state’s history. While we still don’t know the full toll of this disaster, we do know that an American community has been devastated, and many people – including young men and women with their whole futures ahead of them – have tragically lost their lives. I want to thank the dedicated first responders who have been working tirelessly for days to contain the situation, recover victims, and treat the wounded. My Administration is in close contact with our state and local partners on the ground to make sure that authorities have everything they need as they continue response operations and investigate the cause of the fire. Oakland is one of the most diverse and creative cities in our country, and as families and residents pull together in the wake of this awful tragedy, they will have the unwavering support of the American people.
Although Almena and his wife, Micah Allison, did not own the “Ghost Ship,” the East Bay Times notes that they leased it from an Oakland landlord and lived at the warehouse while charging $300 to $600 a month for tenants to live and work there.
The family of five was staying at a nearby hotel during the deadly conflagration.
A former tenant told the Times that Almena knew of the structure’s deficiencies, which included questionable electrical hookups, artists using butane torches, and exposed wood throughout. The entire warehouse was filled to the brim with furniture and artwork but had no fire alarm or sprinkler system installed.
“We argued a lot,” Shelley Mack told the East Bay Times. “They said they would fix things, and then they would collect money. They never would use the money to fix things.”
However, not everyone agreed with the criticism of Almena. A cat owner named Nikki Kelber, 44, who lived in the “Ghost Ship” and narrowly escaped the fire with her feline suggested to the Times that Almena was being unfairly blamed for the fire.
According to the Sacramento Bee, the death toll in Friday’s fire has risen to 36 as of Monday, and could rise further still.
Eight victims have been identified and their names released. Among them was Draven McGill, a 17-year-old at San Francisco’s Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.
The others identified thus far are Cash Askew, 22, of Oakland, David Cline, 35, of Oakland, Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, of Coronado, Sara Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek, Travis Hough, 35, of Oakland, Donna Kellogg, 32, of Oakland and Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward.
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