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New Orleans Pledges to Find Remains of Those Killed in Antigay Arson

Patrons at The UpStairs Lounge
Patrons at New Orleans's The UpStairs Lounge

The 1973 arson targeting the popular gay bar the UpStairs Lounge was the deadliest anti-LGBTQ+ attack until Pulse in 2016. 

The bodies of four men murdered in the infamous UpStairs Lounge arson fire in New Orleans, including a veteran who fought at the Battle of the Bulge during World War 2, may finally receive a proper burial.

Earlier this year on the 49th anniversary of the blaze which took place on June 24, 1973, the city council of New Orleans issued a formal apology to the victims and their survivors. ABC News reported the city council passed a motion on Thursday to locate the remains of four men who were buried in a potter's field. The Up Stairs Lounge fire took the lives of 32 people, injured at least another 15, and was the most deadly attack against the LGBTQ+ community until the Pulse Nightclub massacre in 2016.

"The city we are today is not the city we were then," Councilmember JP Morrell wrote in a statement. "The City of New Orleans' lack of response to the deadliest fire in our history has kept individuals from mourning their loved ones, but today we took a step in the right direction. Moving forward, my office will be working with the family of Ferris LeBlanc, a WWII veteran who died in the fire, to exhume his remains and properly memorialize him with full military honors. There's still so much left to do to adequately recognize the tragedy of the Up Stairs Lounge arson attack, but today was a good start."

As a veteran of World War II who was honorably discharged, LeBlanc should have received a military funeral for his service. Instead, he was buried in a potter's field alongside three other unidentified young men who died in the blaze. LeBlanc was 50 at the time of his murder. His family was never notified of his death or burial.

"He split up with his partner and he was basically sleeping on the couch and working and then just one night never came home," Skip Bailey, LeBlanc's nephew, told Oxygen. "We've always wondered all these years, where did he go?"

"The council has promised to get to the bottom of this issue and do everything they can to help us bring an end to this story," LeBlanc's family wrote in a statement to ABC News. "We are cautiously optimistic for this renewed interest and are hopeful it will end in a positive resolution."

Burn victims of the 1972 fire at The UpStairs Lounge

The UpStairs Lounge was a popular gathering spot for the LGBTQ+ community at a time when same-sex sexual relations were still outlawed in many parts of the country. The fire was discovered on the evening of June 24, 1973, at the entrance to the bar after someone rang the doorbell. When a bartender opened the door, the fire quickly spread up the stairwell and into the bar itself. While many patrons were able to escape, 31 men and one woman perished in the blaze.

The gay man believed responsible for the blaze, Rodger Nunez, had earlier been kicked out of the bar after having his jaw broken following disputes with multiple other patrons. He reportedly threatened revenge as he was escorted from the building. Police later interviewed him, but no charges were ever filed and the case was eventually dropped. Nunez reportedly admitted his guilt on numerous occasions, saying he never intended to kill anyone. Nunez died by suicide in 1974.

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