A GW alumnus perished in a fire in his parents’ Long Island home Friday.
Mark Bernetti, who graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in history, was the only member of his family to die in the blaze.
Friends of Bernetti remember a man who loved life and lived each moment to its fullest.
“Many times we both would just sit and breathe,” said Sharon Husbands, who attended GW with Bernetti. “As human beings we want so much, we talked about how lucky we should feel to just breathe.”
“Mark had a depth to him that was sometimes startling. He was an extremely emotional man,” Husbands added, saying Bernetti was “an old soul who had lived many times.”
Bernetti, 25, began studying for his master’s degree in education at Hunter College in New York this semester. Husbands said her friend was considering adolescent education and eventually wanted to be a university professor.
The Bernetti family’s neighbors told Newsday they heard people screaming as last week’s fire quickly engulfed most of the house. Mark’s parents and older sister were able to escape, and most of the family’s possessions were destroyed.
Clifford Newman, Nassau County Supervising Fire Inspector, told Newsday that the cause of the house fire is under investigation. Bernetti’s sister Sasha told neighbors that a fallen candle might have started the blaze, according to Newsday.
Bernetti’s close friends held a celebration in honor of his life Sunday in Brooklyn, N.Y. Companions from childhood, GW and Nassau Community College, which Bernetti attended for two years, gathered to talk about their friend.
Pictures of Bernetti donned the apartment of Nidhi Khurana, who graduated with Bernetti from GW. Khurana said friends served Bernetti’s favorite foods, including bagels and lox, lime tortilla chips and hummus at the celebration.
“It was really nice because people from different parts of (Bernetti’s) life were all sharing stories,” she said.
Husbands said she and Bernetti met during their last year at GW through a mutual friend. She recalled a time when the pair and another friend went to Great Falls in Virginia to climb rocks and view natural rapids.
“I was the girl, and I was hanging out with the guys … I was freaking out,” Husbands said. “Mark just said ‘Come on, Sharon, you can do it.’ He would spot me and make sure I was OK.”
She described Bernetti as an outgoing man with few biases or prejudices against different types of people. She also noted his love of politics, history and debate.
“He was engaging, intoxicating,” said Husbands, who spoke at Bernetti’s wake in New York. “It felt like you were in a dream … he consumed you.”
Relatives of Mark’s set up the Friends of Bernetti Fund, which will be collecting donations for the family. Donations can be sent to 76 Taylor Ave., East Meadow, N.Y. 11554, care of the Bernetti family.