CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB)- A quiet Labor Day turned tragic for a western New York family, when a Cheektowaga home on Peoria Avenue burst into flames.
There were two men inside; an elderly man and his 62-year-old son, Barry Fiume. Barry didn’t make it out of the home in time.
His friend of more than 30 years, Michele Brown, remembers the joy he brought as a volunteer at Compeer. The organization pairs volunteers with individuals suffering from mental illness; the goal is to facilitate friendships and provide support.
“Barry used to come to the office way back when and say ‘hello young Michele’…. and here it was, you know, 30 years later, and I’d pick up the phone and it would be Barry and he goes ‘hello young Michele,” she recalled.
Barry himself suffered from Schizophrenia.
“He just was a great person. He was compassionate, he was understanding, he spoke about the stigma of having a mental illness.”
It’s a stigma Brown told News 4 she felt when officials discussed the fire investigation; they mentioned Fiume’s mental health issues, and that they’d had a couple run-ins with him.
“People are so quick to say somebody has a mental health issue. It’s necessarily and most of the time relevant to a situation,” Brown said.
According to Cheektowaga Police, the fire started in an upstairs bedroom. How it started isn’t clear.
Officials told News 4 questions from neighbors and the press prompted them to confirm Fiume’s past run-ins and his mental heath history.
Although police answered questions, they also emphasized that the investigation will look at all possible aspects of this tragedy.
“Here’s somebody who died tragically in a fire and now the insinuation was well maybe we need to blame him,” Brown said.
Brown remembers more than someone with a mental health issue, she remembers someone who worked every day to overcome it, and support others.
Brown said Schizophrenia did not define Barry’s life, and she hopes it will not define his death either.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there is no new information on the investigation.