The leader of an Oakland “artist collective” that went up in flames over the weekend, trapping dozens and killing at least 36 people, is speaking to media for the first time since the blaze consumed his Bay Area warehouse.
Derick Almena, or “Derick Ion” as he’s known in the art community, apologized for what he called an “insensitive” Facebook post about the fire over the weekend, telling reporters that those lost in the fire were his “family” and his “loves.”
“In my previous Facebook post, I had no idea there was a loss of life,” he said in a prepared statement, released to NBC Bay Area. “This tragic event consumes me every moment. My heart is broken. My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends who have suffered the loss of loved ones.”
Late Monday afternoon, Almena told reporters waiting outside his family’s Oakland hotel room that the fire’s victims “are my children. They’re my friends, they’re my family, they’re my loves, they’re my future. What else do I have to say?”
Monday night, Almena and his wife, Micah Allison, appeared on NBC Nightly News, and seemed to pass the blame. “We’ve done everything that we possibly could afford to do,” Allison said. She and her husband claimed that “‘a lot of people have turned their backs on us, most expressly the landlord.”
The pair also said they had no involvement in the “underground rave,” other than to clean and prepare the warehouse for the party.
Almena and the building’s owner, Chor Ng, are facing allegations that they knew for months that Almena’s “Ghost Ship” warehouse, where he is believed to have lived with his wife, three children and at least ten other artists, was a “death trap.” So far, no charges have been filed, but Oakland authorities say prosecutors are looking into potential claims.
Almena is alleged to have bullied artists who complained about the squalor. Former residents say Ng, an absentee owner, looked the other way as Almena stole electricity from neighbors, jerry-rigged stairs out of shipping pallets, and housed his three young kids in a non-residential — and unsafe — building.
The warehouse was cited three times by the city of Oakland for blight; the last citation was issued on November 14, after salvaged materials and garbage spilled from Ion’s “collective” into the street outside. Inside, the building was, reportedly, a “rabbit warren,” packed to the gills with materials, but without smoke detectors, fire sprinklers or fire safety equipment.
The Daily Mail also reported Monday that friends and family of Almena and Allison were concerned the pair were struggling with drug addiction. The couple had recently reunited with their three children, who had been temporarily removed by California’s child protective services division while the couple sought addiction treatment, according to Allison’s father and sister.
The family was staying in a hotel, Allison’s father told the Daily Mail, because CPS would not allow the children to attend the events Almena sometimes held at his art collective.
The building went up in flames on Saturday night during an “underground rave” party. Investigators say they’ve sorted through about 70% of the warehouse, but have to remove the “Ghost Ship’s” ruins bucketful by bucketful.
Investigators have yet to say what they believed caused the blaze, but they say it’s unlikely the fire was intentional.