In shadow of another tragedy, victims of Sofa Super Store fire remembered

Jackie Drayton and her brother, Arthur Grant, and her daughter, Jasmine, hold a wreath that was laid to honor their father and grandfather, Earl Drayton, who died in the Sofa Super Store fire in 2007.

The same day many in Charleston mourned the death of nine people killed Wednesday night in a mass shooting at “Mother” Emanuel AME Church, the community also memorialized the lives of nine firefighters, who died eight years ago during the Sofa Super Store fire in West Ashley.

The Charleston Fire Department held its annual ceremony to mark the tragedy Thursday at the site of the former furniture store on Savannah Highway. The city’s firefighters walked through the grassy memorial field silently as family members, friends and civic leaders looked on. A bell was wrung nine times as the names of the deceased were called out by Chief Karen Brack.

The 2007 fire claimed one of the highest number of firefighter fatalities since 9/11, and is often regarded as one of the most traumatic events in Charleston’s history.

Still, family members of the deceased said they were thinking about the shooting victims and their families on Thursday.

“I’m focused more on what those people are going through right at this moment,” said Jean Dangerfield, sister of the late Assistant Engineer Michael French, one of the Sofa Super Store victims. “I know exactly where they’re getting ready to start. So it’s sad. My thoughts are definitely with those families of those victims.”

Ann Mulkey, whose son, Capt. Louis Mulkey, also died in the 2007 fire, said she was up all night Wednesday watching the news and checking social media for updates about the shooting.

“At first I thought, well what’s the connection here? Who knows? God, I hope it’s no connection from this to that. ... It’s just a horrible tragedy,” she said. “My heart goes out to those families. I know what they’re going through right now. If there’s something we can do for them, I hope somebody will let us know, because we had to go through the same thing eight years ago.”

Brack said many in the fire department had been grappling with the news on Thursday as well.

“It’s just tragic,” she said. “It’s a very hard time for the community. The purpose, is that we can be here, and hopefully provide some solace.”

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail