Seton Hall dorm fire survivors return to NJ to tell their story

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NEWARK -

It has been 19 years since a devastating fire inside a dormitory at Seton Hall University killed three students and injured more than 50 others.

Two men who were badly burned but survived the fire returned to Newark Friday to share their stories and inspire students who are about to go into college themselves.

“I remember looking at my arm and seeing my skin peeling and thinking to myself ‘Oh, they'll patch me up and I'll be back in a week.’ And then three months later, I'm waking up from a coma,” Avlaro Llanos told the crowd.

Llanos and Shawn Simons were roommates when the fire broke out inside Boland Hall on Jan. 19, 2000. The story of their recovery is well-told in documentaries and a best-selling book. The pair also travels around the country telling their story to students.

RELATED: Congressman announces Fire Safety Education Act following deadly Seton Hall dorm fire 

“A lot of times in tragedy people always try to push things away. They don't want to talk about it anymore, they just want to move on,” says Simons. “We kind of looked at it from a different aspect. We said what if we use our tragedy, our situation, and be able to try to help people.”

The visit to American History High School in Newark Friday was Simons’ first time speaking to a group of kids in his hometown.

“It feels good to be in my hometown of Newark. We have traveled the country, gone throughout Canada, spoke at many places, even here in New Jersey. We speak at over 100 colleges every year,” Simons says.

The message foremost is one about fire safety for those students who will find themselves on campuses next year.

“We'll never know how many people we affect. Our goal is to at least get to one person in the audience,” says Llanos.

But the two friends also want to share the message of overcoming personal obstacles in life.

“We know that if we made it through this - I survived the streets of Newark. [Llanos] survived the streets of Paterson. We went to college. And then this happened to us. And we survived this,” says Simons told the crowd. “We know that you all, no matter what you’re going through in life, you can survive anything and everything that you go through.”

Two students who resided in Boland Hall pleaded guilty to arson in 2006. They were sentenced to five years in prison.

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