Michael Joseph Kulz

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Michael Joseph Kulz, 30; liked to keep things simple

Michael Joseph Kulz, 30, worked hard. He stocked shelves six days a week in the dairy department of Stop & Shop, where he had worked since he was 15.

His aunt sometimes visited him at work.

"He wouldn't stop," said Bettie A. Smith, of Johnston. "He'd stand there and talk to you, but he kept working. He took his work seriously."

Mike lived on Poplar Street in Warwick with his parents, George A. and Barbara A. Kulz. His mother says her son was easygoing and never gave them any trouble. Each morning when she awoke, she'd unlock the front door so he wouldn't have to take out his key when he arrived home from his late-night shift.

Mike was a basic guy, friends and relatives say. He liked playing video games, corresponding in Internet chat rooms, playing pool and watching science-fiction shows such as the X-Files, Smallville and Twilight Zone.

"I don't think I ever heard him utter the words 'I want,' " says his friend Joseph J. LoBianco, of North Providence.

"Mike never said things like 'I really want a new Corvette.' I never heard him say 'I'd like to get a really big stereo system.' He never wished for a fancy outfit he saw at the mall, and he never dreamed of owning a mansion in Palm Beach," LoBianco said. "Mike simply had a few basic needs: a TV with a remote control, a computer with good Internet access, and a reliable car, but nothing really extravagant."

Mike's one indulgence was an occasional pilgrimage to Disney World. He loved the resort and collected Scrooge McDuck figurines. Nobody knows why he liked Scrooge McDuck so much, but he seemed to like the challenge of finding the lesser-known character.

LoBianco met Mike 15 years ago when they both worked in the video store inside Stop & Shop in Johnston, where Mike worked until five years ago, when he transferred to the Mansfield, Mass., store. They shared a love of melodic hard rock, particularly Great White. So when LoBianco heard Great White was playing in West Warwick, he got a pair of tickets and invited his old friend. Mike swapped shifts to get the night off.

LoBianco was injured in the fire but escaped. Someone found him crawling on the floor and threw him out a broken window. Mike never made it out.

Mrs. Kulz said she is learning more about her son from his coworkers.

"He was so quiet, but they tell me at work that he used to make them laugh," she said. "I didn't know that about him."

-- Cathleen F. Crowley, Providence Journal staff

Published in The Providence Journal on Mar. 20, 2003
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