On the anniversary of Boston University student Binland Lee’s death in an Allston apartment fire last April, friends and family assembled a memorial Monday where the blaze that took her life broke out. When they left to gather a few additional supplies for the remembrance and returned to place them at the scene, more than $500 worth of flowers and photographs had mysteriously been removed.
“We spent about three hours that morning shopping for frames for the photographs, for flowers, for candles, candies and juices that Binland liked,” said Cait McAndrews, a former roommate of Lee’s who helped assemble her memorial. “When we got to the house, it was a very meticulous process. It probably took us a little over two hours to set the entire thing up.”
McAndrews joined Lee’s mother Mei Kwong, who traveled from New York, and other friends and family members in front of 87 Linden St. where Lee, 22, was killed a month before graduating from BU. Those mourning the anniversary of Lee’s death left at around 4:30 p.m. to buy additional wreaths and flowers for the memorial, McAndrews said.
“By the time we got back at [6 p.m.], we pulled into the driveway and immediately realized that something was terribly wrong,” she said. “There was nothing left. There was no sign that there had ever been a memorial there. The earth was raked over cleanly and everyone was in disbelief.”
Lee’s friends and family searched trashcans along Linden Street for the materials they purchased earlier that day as well as a photograph Lee had given to her mother just before the April 2013 fire, McAndrews said. They knocked on apartment doors throughout the neighborhood to see if anyone had witnessed the removal of the memorial without success.
Given the speed with which the memorial was taken apart and because it seemed as though several people had disassembled it, Binland’s friends and family suspected her former landlord may have removed it, McAndrews said.
When Lee’s friend and roommate Noelle Olsen tried to call their former landlord, the property owner answered before quickly hanging up the phone, McAndrews said. When Lee’s former housemate and McAndrews then tried the landlord’s number, they received no answer, she said.
“It was an interruption of our grieving process,” McAndrews said. “Everyone was really excited to be able to come back after we all went to dinner with Mei, to be able to see it that night, light the candles again. To have everything taken away so quickly, not as many people were even able to see everything that was set up. Mei was hoping that there would be a big turnout, and that it would be a huge celebration of Binland’s life in tribute. Everything just was changed so quickly.”
Binland’s family and friends installed a second memorial Monday night on Linden St., and paid tribute to it Tuesday morning, McAndrews said. To her knowledge, the memorial is still standing.
2013 Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences graduate Sheba Ebhote met Lee in their freshman year at BU. Ebhote said Kwong assembled a memorial similar to that on Linden Street for Lee’s grave in Brooklyn, where Ebhote and Kwong live.
“A year later, it’s easy for people to kind of forget what happened or move on, which is to be expected, but just to do something like having a memorial brings everything back into perspective for a lot of people,” Ebhote said. “That was something that was very much hurtful, to see all your hard work, to see something that brings you solace, something that brings you comfort, taken away so suddenly without any type of explanation.”
McAndrews said the items Kwong cherished most that were lost, such as the graduation photographs of Lee no longer printed by the company who took them, were recently recovered digitally and will soon be available to Kwong.
“The most important thing was knowing that we were there to support her mother and her aunt and friends, and also felt this loss,” said School of Management junior Steven Winegar, who met with Binland’s friends and family Monday evening. “The memorial itself was material, and there’s only so much value in it. What matters are people’s thoughts and their love.”