Mother wants fallen fighters added to Emanuel memorial at airport

Ann Mulkey, mother of one of the nine Charleston firefighters who died in the Sofa Super Store fire in 2007, wants the memorial planned at Charleston International Airport for the nine victims of the Emanuel AME shooting in 2015 to include those who died in the furniture store blaze.

The mother of one of the nine firefighters killed in the Sofa Super Store blaze believes those who perished in 2007 are just as important as the nine victims of the Emanuel AME Church shooting and wants them included in a memorial planned for the slain parishioners at Charleston International Airport.

“If they do one, they should do the other,” said Ann Mulkey of Summerville, whose son Louis died fighting the furniture store fire.

“My heart went out to those people that night,” she said of the church shooting in June 2015. “I cried just like everyone else. I knew what they were feeling and what they were going through. Let’s not forget it’s the worst tragedy in the history of the Charleston Fire Department.”

Mulkey added she didn’t think the airport was the appropriate place to remind people of tragedies.

“But if they are going to do it, they should put both out there at the same time,” she said.

Mulkey hasn’t given much thought to exactly what should be included in the airport memorial to the firefighters if one is added.

“I don’t think it should be too elaborate, just a little educational display about them and a couple of lines about each one,” she said. “It should be something elegant but simple.”

Airport CEO Paul Campbell said the decision on whether to include a remembrance of the firefighters in the Emanuel AME memorial will be left up to the board of the Charleston County Aviation Authority, which oversees the state’s busiest airport.

“If we can find a place to honor them, I would certainly do it,” he said.

Aviation Authority Chairman Billy Swails said Mulkey’s request puts the airport in an awkward position since the airport began working on the Emanuel memorial not long after the June 17, 2015, tragedy at the downtown Charleston church.

“To undo everything we have done in the past six months is almost impossible,” he said.

The final decision will rest with the 11-member board, but Swails’ initial thoughts are that a memorial already exists on Savannah Highway for the firefighters that perished and that’s the appropriate place to remember them.

“This is for the Emanuel Nine,” Swails said of the airport memorial. “We respect them (the firefighters and their families) and we would like to do something, but this has been in the works for nearly a year now.

“I certainly feel for them,” Swails added. “The train hasn’t left the station yet on it, and we have received some feedback on putting an interfaith chapel at the airport.”

Board member Margaret Seidler, who is heading up the airport memorial effort, also is reluctant to include a remembrance to the firefighters in the Emanuel display.

“The circumstances are so different,” she said. “There is a lovely memorial for the Charleston Nine on Savannah Highway.”

The more-than-$175,000 project in the terminal next to the rotunda will feature stained glass, possibly with the names of victims and survivors etched in; a round table with a Bible open to the Scripture being read when the shooting occurred; photographs of the historic downtown church; and a seating area.

Two 5-foot-high stained glass window panes, depicting the church and nine white doves, will serve as the focal point. A glass partition, where the stained glass will hang, will separate the memorial from a small seating area where airport visitors and travelers can sit and view the display.

Encased in a table under glass will be a Bible open to the Book of Mark, Chapter 4, verses 13-20, which the parishioners were reading the night an avowed white supremacist sat with them for an hour before opening fire and killing nine in the study group.

“What’s so rewarding about doing this is, as the renderings come to life and the stained glass progresses and I share it with the survivors, I’m told it really warms their hearts,” Seidler said. “For me, that’s part of the gift here. It involves them in something that’s positive going forward.”

She is pushing to have the memorial ready by September in a separate ceremony from the dedication of the $200 million terminal overhaul, which is tentatively planned for September, as well.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.