Former Plover man was to perform at warehouse where fire claimed dozens of lives
The tragic fire at a warehouse in Oakland, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 3, had a local connection.
Thirty-three-year-old electronic musician Joel Shanahan, Madison, who uses the stage name “Golden Donna” and was waiting to perform that evening, grew up in Plover. He is the son of the late Pat Shanahan, who was an air personality at WIZD-FM (now WSAU-FM) from 1990 into the 2000s, and Tammy Blecher, formerly of Columbus, Ohio, and now of Whiting.
While living with his dad in Plover, Shanahan attended Roosevelt Elementary School, Ben Franklin Junior High School and the Stevens Point Area Senior High School. He also briefly attended Mid-State Technical College.
Shanahan was on his month-long “Golden Donna’s 100% Silk West Coast Tour” at the time of the tragedy. 100% Silk is the name of the music label for which Shanahan records.
Contrary to some reports, Shanahan was not inside the building.
Speaking with media, he was distraught while recounting the events. He said his best friend and several acquaintances were inside and did not make it out.
Shanahan told San Francisco TV station KNBC “I got in there ,and I saw the steps, and I was like, uh, that’s weird, but at the same time, like I got up those stairs and got down them and like, I wasn’t thinking about … I didn’t think there’d be the fire.”
He said he’d gone outside for a cigarette before the fire broke out. “Smoke started pouring out and people started screaming, ‘Fire.’ We went up to the entrance with our lights, and we screamed – that’s where the exit was so that people could follow our voices out – maybe see the light because it was so hard to see in there.”
“It was hell – we just had to watch the exits for hours and just wait. They never came out.”
Shanahan said some survivors told him the lights went out before the flames started. The fire claimed about three dozen lives.
Since the tragedy, Shanahan told the TV station he’d received death threats despite having nothing to do with setting up the event.
“All the people in there were such beautiful souls, and they were all involved in this community – everybody in there was loved, and they loved each other,” he said.
Shanahan remained in California early this week, but planned to return to Madison. He told Madison newspaper, Isthmus, he was cutting his tour short and returning home, adding “My heart is just broken.”
Isthmus described Shanahan as “a familiar face and beloved member of the Madison music scene, memorable for his large stature, signature driving cap, talent and kindness.” The paper said that after returning to Madison from Portland, Ore., a year-and-a-half ago, Shanahan has been doing DJ work at several Madison clubs.
The Oakland concert, which some described as an electronic music showcase, was taking place on the second floor of the East Oakland artist collective known locally as “Ghost Ship” when the fire began about 11:30 p.m. Friday night on the first floor and spread quickly. Various reports said the number of people inside – mostly in their 20s and 30s – ranged to as many as 100 and that some were from such countries as South Korea, Guatemala and Finland. The East Bay Times reported about 20 people lived in the building, although it was not zoned for residential use.
The Times also quoted the fire chief as saying the building had no smoke detectors or sprinklers. The fire chief said the cluttered first floor “‘was like a maze almost,” adding, “It was filled end to end with furniture, whatnot, collections.”
A local TV station quoted officials as saying access to the second floor was difficult because the stairwell was partially made of stacked wooden pallets. The second floor collapsed in the fire.
Since the blaze, officials have been working to determine if there was any criminal negligence and trying to establish a cause.