A college student from New Jersey who played on his school's club hockey team and was considered a "larger-than-life teddy bear" died in a house fire over the weekend.
Patrick Romano, 23, was found dead by city firefighters on Saturday morning after a fire broke out at his Niagara Falls home, where he lived while attending school at Niagara University, the Buffalo News reported.
The local fire department said in a news release that crews arrived at the home around 5 a.m., and brought the blaze under control about two hours later. The house's sole occupant was killed, and the cause remains under investigation.
Romano's death was confirmed by Niagara University, as well as in a GoFundMe that has raised $36,000 to help his mother, Charlene, whom he considered "the most important person in the entire world," the page said.
"He never failed to make everyone around him smile and laugh. No matter who you were or where you came from, Pat loved you like you were part of his family," the page continued. "His ability to positively impact the lives of everyone around him was something that will be missed and cherished forever. To the most genuine soul, you will be loved and missed forever Pat."
Romano was from Toms River, New Jersey, and was a junior majoring in sports management.
He played varsity hockey at Toms River High School East, and played at a club level in college over the past three years, most recently in Lewiston, Maine before coming to Niagara, according to NJ.com and the Buffalo News.
Tom Mooradian, his coach at Niagara, told the News that Romano was a cherished member of the team who typically played defense, though there was no season this year due to COVID.
"He has such a physical presence on the ice, and it's very ironic because he's the happiest, most bubbly, larger-than-life teddy bear off the ice," he said. "He's literally the happiest human being I've ever met in my entire life. There's nobody that didn't like him."
"I've cried so much that I feel like I don't even have any tears left in my tear ducts," he added.
Niagara Falls Fire Chief Joseph Pedulla told the outlet that Romano was alone in the home the night of the fire, as his housemate was away for the weekend.
Pedulla said he was found in the bathroom, and that an autopsy was scheduled for Monday, the same day the house was set to be demolished.
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