Local News

Removal of Memorial Upsets Families of Jail Fire Victims

Posted July 2, 2002 8:43 a.m. EDT

— Family members and friends of the eight men who died in the Mitchell County jail fire are upset that a memorial for the victims was disassembled.

As fire investigators combed the Mitchell County jail Monday afternoon for clues about the origin of the fire that killed eight men, Kim Jones retrieved a poem and an angel from a box in the neighboring courthouse. They were mementos for Tywain Neal, who Jones 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 the courthouse.

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

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

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

County officials said Monday they are unsure who removed the memorial down.

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

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

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

James Munger, a fire origin and source expert, inspected the jail Monday afternoon on behalf of the Thomas family. In preparation for civil litigation, two fire investigators also combed through the facility on behalf of Mitchell County.

Results of the examination will not be available for several weeks, said Ben Baker, a Montgomery, Ala.-based attorney representing the estates of three victims.