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Manager of Burned Oakland Warehouse Calls Site a ‘Mass Grave’ in Distraught Interview on ‘Today’

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Derick Almena, manager of the Oakland, Calif., warehouse where at least 36 people died in a fire Friday night, spoke with Matt Lauer and Tamron Hall of the Today show on Tuesday morning. Though he was not present at the time of the fire, Almena had lived at the warehouse and rented out space to others. After initially saying good morning to Hall and Lauer, Almena corrected himself and said it was not a good morning, then apologized for the loss of life at the warehouse in what was the beginning of a very bizarre interview.

Though Almena was renting space in the warehouse to multiple people, mostly young artists, city officials have said the building was not up to code and was not zoned for residential living. The warehouse was leased to Almena as a studio space. He was adamant that he hadn’t done anything wrong and that what he had done was to build a community for artists and performers who might not have had anywhere else to create or, in some cases, might not have had anywhere else to live. When Lauer asked him if he should be held accountable for what happened, Almena was unable to answer.

According to a former resident of the warehouse, Almena knew it wasn’t safe and was making a profit off the people paying rent there. When confronted with what the former resident said, Almena was again unable to answer Lauer’s question.

“I’m a father. I laid my three children down there every night. This is not profit, this is total loss. This is a mass grave,” Almena answered when asked if he’d been profiting from the warehouse.

Almena went on to call the line of questioning from Hall and Lauer ridiculous and refused to answer any more questions, though he continued to apologize throughout the interview. Lauer was forced to end the interview as Almena continued to rant about the community he was building.

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