New Orleans must resume search for 4 people killed in 1973 gay bar arson after ‘ruthless’ response

Four people killed in a 1973 arson attack at a New Orleans gay bar, including three who have not yet been identified, may finally be close to a proper burial.

The city council was ordered by a new motion on Thursday to provide ‘all reasonable assistance’ in an effort to recover the remains of the four people who were fatally burned at the UpStairs lounge on June 24, 1973 – which left 32 dead .

The interior of the UpStairs bar is seen on June 25, 1973, following a flash fire that killed 32 and injured 15 in New Orleans.

The interior of the UpStairs bar is seen on June 25, 1973, following a flash fire that killed 32 and injured 15 in New Orleans. (Jack Thornel/)

Prior to the 2016 mass shooting at Florida’s Pulse nightclub, the fire was the largest gay mass murder of the 20th century, according to both the motion and the city council’s apology released a day before the anniversary of the tragedy.

Firefighters give first aid to survivors of a French Quarter fire that swept through a second-floor bar, killing 29 and injuring 15, June 25, 1973, in New Orleans.

Firefighters give first aid to survivors of a French Quarter fire that swept through a second-floor bar, killing 29 and injuring 15, June 25, 1973, in New Orleans.

Firefighters give first aid to survivors of a French Quarter fire that swept through a second-floor bar, killing 29 and injuring 15, June 25, 1973, in New Orleans. (GE Arnold/)

Now the city council must search for World War II veteran Ferris LeBlanc, 50 – whose service included fighting in the Battle of the Bulge – and three people, aged 18, 23 and 28, who were burned in the beyond recognition, all of whom were buried in the unmarked “potter’s field”.

During the blaze, one firefighter told another he was unable to reach the flames, while the other used a homophobic slur and said, “Let them burn,” according to Johnny Townsend, who conducted dozens of interviews with survivors for a 2011 book.

“The city’s callous and deeply inadequate response…rooted in pervasive anti-gay sentiment” has exacerbated the suffering of victims’ loved ones, council member JP Morrell’s motion reads. “Poor record keeping and indifference continue to hamper the efforts of surviving family members to recover the bodies of victims and provide them with the dignity of a proper burial.”

With dispatch services


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