Earlier this month, a devastating fire broke out at a warehouse called the Ghost Ship in Oakland, California. The Ghost Ship is a 4,000 square-foot residential building as well as a makeshift venue for underground parties and concerts. The night of the fire on December 2nd, the Ghost Ship was hosting an electronic music performance and dance party.
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Because much of the warehouse’s layout was designed and put together by residents, the exits weren’t clearly marked and the cluttered floor made for a maze-like interior. In the dense smoke, partygoers struggled to escape.
36 people, ranging from ages 21 to 35, died of smoke inhalation. One of these people was a young man named Griffin Madden, college sweetheart of Saya Tomioka.
In the hours after the Oakland fire was first reported, Saya waited in anguish to hear whether or not Griffin made it out. After experiencing a tragedy such as this, many people say it’s the “not knowing” that’s the hardest, the waiting for news. But, after Griffin’s death was confirmed, Saya said she still didn’t feel relieved.
For whatever reason, a photo taken over a year ago came to her mind; she knew she couldn’t be at peace until she had tracked the lost photo down.
Saya posted about the missing photo, taken in June 2015 in Time’s Square New York by an unknown photographer. She begged friends, family, and even strangers online to help her find it. She had only seen the photo briefly after the photographer had taken it, but she had never owned a copy for herself. The photo was of her and Griffin sharing a blissful kiss, and she knew in her heart that it was still out there somewhere.
Saya’s post quickly went viral; more than 300 people shared it with photographer Arken Avan thinking the photo may be one of his. The photographer dug through the over 200,000 photos in his archive and finally spotted the one she was looking for.
When Saya was reunited with the precious photograph, she finally found the strength to say goodbye to her love.
Read her moving letter to Griffin below:
My dearest Griffin,
The moment that I learned that you were trapped in a warehouse fire I was out dancing in Vegas.
I sat in my hotel room for the next 6 hours waiting for your call, waiting for you to respond to me. As the hours ticked by and the fire continued to burn, I kept wondering if you were thinking of me… I kept wondering if you were still here. I needed to find you, and I wrote to you that I WILL find you.
I didn’t sleep that next day. I continued to wait for you at the Oakland Sheriff’s office for another 12 hours. I was surrounded by your beautiful and loving friends as I wondered how I was going to get through this if I lost you…
I didn’t give up though; I knew I was going to be the one to find you. I waited for you for another several days, juggling between moments of disbelief, emptiness, and our sweetest memories together. We finally found you 24 hours ago. I thought that I’d feel better when the waiting ended, but instead, I felt dissatisfied. I felt like I hadn’t found you—yet.
I have been hoping for a miracle, a glimpse of your light back into my life. With the infinite help from our families, friends, and strangers, I finally found you.
This is the evening of June 16, 2015. Remember sweetie?
We spent the whole night laughing… during The Book of Mormon on Broadway. I can still feel your laughter shaking my seat…
Then you tried to impress me by buying a NY pretzel and bargaining the seller to drop the price by a dollar. That was the most disappointing pretzel we’ve ever had; it tasted so bad!!
Then we walked to Times Square. I can still feel the rush of life from that very moment. The lights filled my heart with excitement; the massive number of people energized every fiber of my being. And right beside me was my best friend, my brightest love.
I’ve finally found you. I sobbed when I saw this photo in Thom’s arms, and then, I immediately laughed uncontrollably. Life is so strange. I’ve lost you, but I’ve never felt stronger in my life. Through our many years of love and growth, I learned how to be strong from you.
For Sky’s birthday tonight, I danced for the first time. Your tipsy father… and I jumped out of the car and danced our hearts out in the middle of the rainy street to “Best of My Love.” (Thom, of course, did not join the dancing).
I felt alive again. The Christmas lights filled my heart with warmth; the music grooved every fiber of my being. You were there with me, dancing just as hard.
My sweetheart, there are a few things I want you to know:
I am at peace. I loved you openly and endlessly from the moment I laid my eyes on you on my first day at UC Berkeley as a freshman. I have no regrets, no question that you ever doubted my love for you.
Sweetie, I know that you loved me just the same. Your love for me echos through all the support I have been receiving from our friends and family. I am surrounded by the most beautiful, endless love from the people who love you.
I will miss you desperately; everyone who knew you will miss you just as much. Your light touched so so so many people, and you taught/will continue to teach us to live our lives just as fully, youthfully and kindly as you did.
I promise you that I will never stop dancing; I’ll dance even harder. I will never stop laughing; I’ll laugh even louder. I will never stop loving; I’ll love even prouder.
To my friends, family and strangers, thank you. There are no words that could even begin to explain my gratitude for you all. Every message, every share, every comment mean the world to me. Thank you all for your kind and generous donations; we are so amazed. Thank you all for sharing your beautiful memories with Griffin, keeping his light alive.
With the brightest light and the greatest love,
Your sweetie chan
PS: Special thanks for those who reached out to @newyorkfaces + endless endless gratitude for Arken Avan photography for capturing our love.
Share Saya’s beautiful, loving tribute today.
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