Fire Chief: Vandalism at Charleston 9 firefighter memorial ‘heinous, disgusting'

Fire Chief: Vandalism at Charleston 9 firefighter memorial ‘heinous, disgusting'
Charleston Police say the vandalism was discovered at approximately 1:40 a.m. Friday. (Source: Charleston Fire Department)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston’s fire chief vowed his department would work with police to bring to justice the person responsible for the early-morning vandalism at the memorial site for nine city of Charleston firefighters.

“There is no greater symbol in humanity than that of a firefighter and the selfless acts that a firefighter does for his or her community without thought to his or her own safety,” Charleston Fire Chief Dan Curia said. “This memorial is sacred to the Charleston Fire Department, is sacred to the service, but it’s an important part of our community. And to think that somebody would deface this memorial is absolutely heinous. It’s disgusting. And on behalf of the Charleston Fire Department. I deplore the act.”

Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds was there, he said, to show unity with the fire department.

"We will make an arrest and somebody will be held accountable for this," he said.

Reynolds said it is a tough time in our nation and in public safety.

“There’s a lot of things going on politically and otherwise,” he said. “But I will tell you right now there’s nine members of the fire department who died serving this community. This memorial was set up with a lot of thought, a lot of meaning, and somebody defaced it last night, early this morning. We’re going to find out who that was and they’re going to be charged accordingly.”

“You know, it’s amazing that just a week ago yesterday we were here on this site to commemorate the 13th anniversary of nine brave men, making the ultimate sacrifice for public safety in our city,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said. “This is a sacred place not just for our fire department, but for our entire city and all our citizens.”

Vandalism discovered when police officer spotted ‘debris’ in roadway

A police officer stopped at the Charleston 9 Memorial park, located at 1807 Savannah Highway at approximately 1:40 a.m. when he noticed debris in the median. The officer found an American flag draped over a cross along with several smaller flags scattered around, an incident report states.

The officer then noticed the nine PVC pipe memorial crosses at the park had been ripped out of the ground and broken.

The memorial marks the former site of the Sofa Super Store, where nine Charleston city firefighters died battling a massive fire in the furniture showroom on June 18, 2007.

A witness said he had been by approximately 10 to 15 minutes earlier and had stopped when he noticed several flags in the roadway. The witness told the officer he picked up the flags and placed them in the median so that vehicles would not run over them. He said he also noticed that some of the flags smelled like gasoline, the incident report states.

Police say the American flag and the Charleston 9 Memorial flag had been removed from the flagpole in the park, and an angel statue at the Louis Mulkey memorial plaque had been knocked over and an American flag had been broken off of the Billy Hutchinson memorial plaque.

The officer also found a 1-gallon jug that smelled of gasoline near the roadway.

Police are working to review security footage from a nearby gas station.

The Charleston Fire Department responded, setting the PVC memorial crosses back into their original locations and raising the flags back up the flagpole at the park. Firefighters took the remaining flags into their possession, the incident report states.

Memorial park created to honor memory of fallen firefighters

After the site had been cleared in the aftermath of the deadly fire, the city purchased the land in 2008 to create the memorial park. It features markers to remember Firefighter Brandon Thompson, Engineer Brad Baity, Capt. Louis Mulkey, Engineer Mark Kelsey, Capt. Mike Benke, Capt. William Hutchinson, Firefighter Melvin Champaign, Asst. Engineer Michael French and Firefighter James “Earl” Drayton.

Each marker shows where they were found after the fire.

Last week, on the 13th anniversary of the deadly fire, the Charleston Fire Department held its annual remembrance ceremony, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was closed to the public. Charleston Fire Department personnel began a watch at the memorial park’s flagpole starting at midnight on June 18 and continued their watch for 24 hours.

Anyone with information on the crime is asked to call 843-743-7200 and ask for the on-duty Charleston central detective or Crime Stoppers of the Lowcountry at 843-554-1111.

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