Most of the stories about the people who perished in the Aug. 8 fire have focused on the circumstances of their death. We want to write about their lives.

Donna Gomes was a fierce and loving matriarch whose stubborn nature earned her the nickname “the bull.” 

Joseph “Lomsey” Lara had a mischievous sense of humor and could make anyone laugh. 

And Joseph Schilling, a loud and gregarious man who left California decades ago and found his forever home on Maui, was selfless and “without convention.” 

Gomes, Lara and Schilling are among the nearly five dozen people identified so far by authorities as having perished in the Aug. 8 fires in Lahaina.

The people who died in the nation’s deadliest wildfire in more than a century — at least the ones we know of so far — ranged in age from 7 years old to 90.  Some were newcomers to the island. Others had been deeply rooted in the community for generations. 

They were friends and neighbors and family members, many of them interconnected in ways we will still be piecing together for years to come. 

They were Lahaina.

So far authorities have confirmed 115 fatalities from the Aug. 8 fire in Lahaina. More are expected. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

For more than three weeks, Civil Beat has been writing about the Aug. 8 wildfires that destroyed much of the town. We’ve written about the missteps on the day of the fire. About the search for the missing. And about the deaths of community members whose remains are still being identified. 

Now we want to write about the lives of the people who made Lahaina what it was. 

Civil Beat is launching a new project to memorialize the lives we lost in Lahaina. Our goal is to tell a meaningful story about every single person who perished in the blaze. View “The Lives We Lost,” a memorial page to the fire victims, here.

“The Lives We Lost” is rooted in a simple premise: Every single person who died in the fire lived a life worth remembering. 

From family members and through online searches, we’ve been able to gather photos for 50 of the 60 people officially identified so far. For a few, like Joe Schilling and Buddy Jantoc, we’ve been able to write full tributes. For others, we’ve scoured social media and news articles from other sites to cobble together as much information as we can.

We’re using quotes and photos posted on social media as long as the posts were made public and not something that was shared privately among friends.

Civil Beat’s new memorial page to the fire victims in Lahaina focuses on the lives people led, rather than the circumstances of their deaths. (Screenshots/Civil Beat/2023)

There’s been no shortage of media attention so far on the people who died in the blaze. In fact, we suspect many families are feeling under siege right now by calls and emails from reporters seeking more information about loved ones during what is undoubtedly the worst moment of their lives.  

What you won’t find in “The Lives We Lost” is a lot of detail about how people died. We will include some of that information when the circumstances of someone’s death says something meaningful about who they were as a person. But in general, we want to focus on people’s lives, rather than the tragic moments leading up to their death. 

Some of the stories will be about extraordinary community members. Others will be about people who lived more ordinary lives. 

Every single one of them had a story worth telling. 

We hope to build out the memorial site eventually to have room for photos and curated tributes from community members as well. 

If you are a friend or family member of someone who died in the fires and want to help us tell the story of your loved one, please email or call me at 808-650-4447. 

If you’re not ready to talk right now, that’s OK too. We know the loss of these community members will continue to reverberate for years to come. And we will continue to work on this project for as long as it takes to make sure that every person who died in the fires is given the tribute they deserve.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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