'Those people had a right to assume they were in a safe building. That's our job . . . We just fell down on the job.'
Ralph E. Spencer, Chief Building Inspector
Angie Eamelli, one of the nine women who died in the Lamont Street fire early yesterday morning, had fought with mental illness for 30 years since she was a girl of 18 in a West Virginia Catholic convent.
Her sister, Mary Kazmierski, told the story yesterday after she identified photographs of the body at the city morgue. In its broadest outline, the story is similar to other accounts given by other victims' relatives of the long years of struggle that led the women to the out-patient boarding home for St. Elizabeths mental hospital.
Kazmierski said she and her sister were born in West Virginia, the children of a steel mill worker who died when she was 10 and Angie was only 3.
By the time Angie was a teen-ager, her mother had remarried. "It was rough for her at home," Kazmierski remembered. "My stepfather was a very nervous person, and they would scream and fight."
Angie was going to a convent school in Parkersburg, W. Va., and eventually, Kazmierski said, she decided to stay there to live.
"It was a cloistered convent, the kind where you are not allowed out, where the rules are very strict. She tried too hard to live by the rules, and I guess it was going against her grain," Kazmierski said. "That's where she became mentally ill . . .
"She started to hear voices. The sisters called us and told us she was having some trouble, but it wasn't until we went to get her that we saw how bad it really was." By then the family was living in Washington, and Angie was committed, at age 18, to St. Elizabeths hospital.
Repeatedly over the years the family tried to bring Angie back to them.
Even within the last decade, Kaznierski said, Angie spent six years living with their mother. But often there were fights, Angie was reluctant to take her medicine there-Thorazine and another drug to combat its side effects. Sometimes Angie would "physically abuse" their mother, Kazmierski said, and "finally it got to be too much."
Angie returned to St.Elizabeths and then "for the last couple of years" to the house on Lamont Street.
It was only in the last five years or so, Kazmierski said, that she and Angie became at all close. Kazmierski works at the White House transcribing the president's statements, and lives comfortably with her family in Columbia, Md.
"I used to pick her up every week and have her over for dinner," said Kazmierski. "She was not too well kept . . . She made an effort to be cordial, you know, but her whole life was written on her face. She was just a pathetice person . . .
"She was well enough to compare my life with hers. She was resentful that I had things she didn't," Kazmierski said.
But over the last five years Angie seemed to be improving. She seemed happy in the foster home, well taken care of.
"Toward the end there we were pretty close," said Kazmierski. "I'm gald that happened. I don't feel as bad as I would have . . . but to think she had to go this way just tears my heart out".
The tragedy expressed by one relative after another questioned at the morgue was that the people who died were people who, after long fights with mental illness, seemed to be getting better.
Margaret Garvey, 57, was first committed to St. Elizabeths when she was in her mid-20s, according to her sister, who asked not to be named.
That was in the old days, her sister said, "before they started giving them medicine." But for the last "seven or eight years" she had been living in the house on Lamont Street, and for the last four years had been holding a job at a Goodwill Industries shop, working five days a week and then visiting with her family on Sunday.
It was just Tuesday night, the night of the fire, that Garvey's sister remembered her saying how much she liked her work, and how much she was looking to Sunday.
The body of Catherine Elsea, 61, was identified at the morgue by her second cousin, Warren Bell. Her sister Evelyn Elsea Boggs was too shaken by her death to leave her home in Arlington.
Elsea's parents died the year she was born when a flu epidemic swept the United States. The girls were raised by their grandmother in Bluemont, Va., then moved into Washington during the 1930s, Bell said.
They helped their grandmother run a boarding house here on 19th Street NW., but sometime during the war, Bell said, Catherine began to show signs of mental illness, and eventually was committed.
Her cousin and her sister visited Elesea at the Lamont Street house, where she had been for the last 10 or 12 years, at least once a week, according to Bell.
Debbie Boggs, Elsea's niece, interviewed over the telephone, said that her aunt was thriving there, and not taking any medication.
"She had her friends in the neighborhood. She went to the bookstore alot. She just helped the women around the house itself," said Elsea's niece. "She was really happy and well adjusted there."
Nancy Inman, 62, had become a fixture on Lamont Street. Of all the people who lived in the house there, she was the best known, the most easily talked to, it was said.
"She would stop and talk and joke with the children all the time," said one neighbor. "A lot of the residents there were always drugged, so when you walked past them and said something, they wouldn't respond. But Nancy was always talking to people."
Other neighbors told of inviting her to dinner, only to have her turn suddenly timid and say, "maybe next week". One, a young man who lived across the street, said, "When I needed advice, she'd give me direct answers. When I had a personal problem, she'd rap to me about it."
A woman close to Inman's family said last night that Inman had committed herself to St. Elizabeths voluntarily 12 or 13 years ago, though the friend declined to discuss the reasons why.
Her family-a brother in Bethesda, a son and grandson in Gaithersburg-tried to get her to leave the foster home several times in recent years, the friend said, but Inman refused.
"I think she was a very courageous person," said the family friend. "She faced her problem and she overcame it . . The family wanted to help her work out something, but I think the insecurities of the world were more than she would face."
Though Inman had taught at a girl's school in Greenwich, Conn., and did clerical work in Washington after she came here in 1956, the friend said, she was afraid that she would be unable to support herself if she left the home, at least partly because she was an outpatient.
"Always one of her very strong feelings was that she didn't want to impose on her family," the friend said. "I think she really was trapped by circumstances."
Nell Dodson, 75, also was identified by the police yesterday as one of the victims. The names of two others were withheld pending notification of next of kin. Two were burned beyond recognition and wilkxt of kin. Two were burned beyond recognition and will have to be identified through dental records, police said. CAPTION: Picture 1, One woman was killed, one critically hurt jumping from second-story window. By James Parcell-The Washington Post; Picture 2, Firemen and paramedics carry injured women from fire scene. She reportedly suffered first- and second-degree burns. By Linda Wheeler-The Washington Post; map, By Dave Cook-The Washington Post