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4:52 on Christmas Morning

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Connecticut State attorney David I. Cohen spent six months investigating. “When such a horrific event occurs, it is only natural that those related to the victims and the public in general want to hold someone responsible for what is otherwise an inexplicable accident,” he wrote in his report. Cohen did not question the official narrative—that the fire began in the mudroom—but he noted that we will never know whether the battery-powered detectors temporarily installed over the summer were still active, as Borcina claims. The day after the fire, Stamford officials decided to tear down the burned-out structure, citing a safety risk to anyone who might enter it. “Where so much is unknown or in dispute,” Cohen wrote, “where the facts are inconclusive and where the safety of the public will not be enhanced, I have decided to exercise the discretion given to me by our State Constitution and by my oath of office and decline, at this time, to prosecute.”

Madonna maintains her own version of how and why. She does not believe the official cause of the fire. She is certain it had something to do with the sparks she saw shooting from the electrical box at the rear of the house as she ran back and forth on the porch roof that night. She says Stamford investigators latched onto the mudroom after confronting her before she even knew the fate of her family to ask what she thought might have caused the fire, and all she could think of was the embers. She has photographs of the house she says show smoke detectors hung all over, and she cannot explain why they did not go off that morning, why she awoke to a smoky silence. She is incredulous that anyone who knows her, or especially her father, would believe they would have allowed anyone to be in the house without them.

She has surrounded herself with a small circle of close friends largely from her professional life, whom she’d first contacted last Christmas morning from her bed in the emergency room. Her business is still running, though she has been living far away from it, in Little Rock, Arkansas. She has spoken one time publicly about the events, with Matt Lauer this past summer. He asked about the current nature of her relationship with Borcina, who is apparently living back in his apartment in Battery Park City:

MADONNA BADGER: Hm.

MATT LAUER: I know friends of yours, or some people in your life, have asked you how you could still have a relationship with him, how you could be near him, quite frankly.

BADGER: Mm-hmm. Right.

LAUER: How do you answer that question?

BADGER: The answer for me is that we were in the fire together. We were in the fire. And we spent the last night on Earth with my three children and my mom and dad, and it was beautiful.

She blames the city of Stamford. She has filed a lawsuit against its officials, alleging their actions in tearing down her house without notifying her destroyed any possibility of a second opinion. She spent a week in an acute-care unit after coming close to attempting suicide.

Matt has sympathy for his ex-wife. He has sympathy even for Borcina. He encountered him in lower Manhattan not so long ago, and Borcina appeared to be struggling. He asked Matt if he could hug him. Yes, Matt has sympathy. No, Borcina could not hug him.

Matt has filed suit against Borcina for a pattern of incompetence and negligent building practices—were it not for Borcina, the suit contends, his children would still be alive. He’s named the City of Stamford as co-defendant, for the premature teardown and inadequate building inspection. He has not sued Madonna. He believes she is suffering enough.

He tries not to think of the lawsuit, to spend every waking moment focused on the foundation. A few days after his disappointing fund-raiser in Norwalk, he drives there, for an audience that has been arranged for him with Connecticut state senator Bob Duff, who Matt hopes can help. They sit in a conference room in City Hall. Matt’s words come slowly, carefully. Frequently he stammers. He tells the senator he is here to discuss the fund’s commitment to Norwalk and vice versa. He says that while the event last week was beautiful, its outcome—$1,200—was disappointing.

The senator tells Matt he disagrees. He says $1,200 is hardly insignificant. He advises Matt that his foundation is new, there are many causes potential donors can support, that his family, for instance, supports the Norwalk Symphony. There is, what’s more, the issue of “how people can get their arms around this.” He says, quite frankly, it is also the nature of it all. For him, personally, it was “very difficult, very emotional.” He has small boys, and “it was hard for me as a dad.” He notes the fire took place just two towns over. “This,” he says again, “has been very hard for us.”


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