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.
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.
The park 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.
The city later purchased the land in 2008 to create a memorial park 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.
The park features markers for each of the nine firefighters showing 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.