Rebecca Snook shows a photo on her phone of her and her daughter Melissa Martinez, 17, on Christmas in their Irish Channel home. Martinez perished in a fire two days later. (Sabree Hill, UptownMessenger.com)
With nighttime lows well beneath freezing last February, not too many people thought camping overnight in the St. Charles Avenue neutral ground was a great idea.
Melissa Martinez, at right, camps out on St. Charles Avenue during Mardi Gras. (Submitted photo)
Kara Morgan, president of the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association, thought it was perfect. For Mardi Gras immediately after Saints’ triumphant first-ever Super Bowl victory, quarterback Drew Brees was riding in Bacchus, and Morgan needed to secure a conspicuous place on the route so he would see her life-size photo of him from his float.
But Morgan also needed fellow campers, and when most of her friends her age told her she was crazy, she turned to a dear friend and neighbor’s teenage daughter, Melissa Martinez, who “thought it was the coolest idea ever,” Morgan recalled. Along with Morgan’s niece and another neighbor, Martinez brought her boyfriend, and the five froze through the night together, huddling on top of tarps and around grills and space heaters in a makeshift camp near Seventh Street.
At 3 a.m., Martinez cooked burgers for everyone. At some point, a elderly Corgi wandered up lost, and the girls adopted him until his owner, a doctor who lived nearby, came and found him. By the time of the parade the next day, Martinez was so exhausted that she was home sleeping and missed it altogether.
This cardboard cutout of Drew Brees inspired a St. Charles Avenue campout for Melissa Martinez and Kara Morgan during Mardi Gras 2009. (Submitted photo)
The entire point of that night for Martinez had simply been the experience and the camaraderie, Morgan now recalls, trying to understand how the beloved 17-year-old Irish Channel resident ended up among eight young people killed in a tragic 9th Ward warehouse fire two days after Christmas and labeled an outsider by the city she loved.
“I really just think she was there because she loved the outdoors, loved roughing it, and I really think that would explain a lot of why she would be in the building that night,” Morgan said. “To her, that would be something fun to do.” Continue reading »