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Removal of Memorial Upsets Families of Jail Fire Victims

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BAKERSVILLE, N.C. — Family members and friends of the eightmen who died in the Mitchell County jail fire are upset that amemorial for the victims was disassembled.

As fire investigators combed the Mitchell County jail Mondayafternoon for clues about the origin of the fire that killed eightmen, Kim Jones retrieved a poem and an angel from a box in theneighboring courthouse. They were mementos for Tywain Neal, whoJones said was her companion.

Jones had left the items in the days following the May fire,adding to a growing memorial that overwhelmed the small yard of thecourthouse.

Late last month, everything - save one wreath bearing an angel -was cleared away. For Jones, it's also taken away a place toremember Neal.

"His family is in New York. They sent his body there," shesaid. "I had come here almost every day. Now, I don't have a placeto go."

Jones and other friends and family members of the jail firevictims said they were not told the memorial would be disassembledand some mementos put in a box alongside a mop and broom in thecounty courthouse.

County officials said Monday they are unsure who removed thememorial down.

The memorial was cleared shortly before Bakersville'sRhododendron Festival on June 21 and 22, said Mark Thomas, fatherof Mark "Haley" Thomas, who died in the fire.

He found items memorializing his son piled in an out-of-sightnook beside the courthouse, he said.

"Stuff like that just kills your soul. It's a living memorialand people are adding to it everyday," Thomas said. "And theyhave a street dance and have to take it down."

James Munger, a fire origin and source expert, inspected thejail Monday afternoon on behalf of the Thomas family. Inpreparation for civil litigation, two fire investigators alsocombed through the facility on behalf of Mitchell County.

Results of the examination will not be available for severalweeks, said Ben Baker, a Montgomery, Ala.-based attorneyrepresenting the estates of three victims.

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