If you’ve heard about nine victims from Charleston this week, it probably had to do with a church shooting. But the ‘Charleston 9’ were victims of something else.
Much has been made about the Emanuel 9, the nine parishioners of Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston who were shot after a Bible study on the night of Wednesday, June 17, 2015, exactly one year ago yesterday.
Much less, by comparison, has been made about the Charleston 9, the nine City of Charleston firefighters who died battling a massive fire at a furniture store and warehouse in the West Ashley area of Charleston on Monday, June 18, 2007, exactly one year ago today.
Some have taken exception with the comparatively fewer mentions of the firefighters for the past two years.
The distance in time between the two events is eight years and one day apart, and it’s that one day portion that is causing some unfortunate angst.
It should have come as no surprise to anyone last year that a shooting that happened the day before the anniversary of the fire would have overshadowed the fire. After all, the shooting had just happened, whereas the fire had happened eight years earlier. Focusing on an event that had just occurred was in no way meant to diminish or ignore the older event. But the emotional and spiritual wounds of the more recent loss were fresher for the public at large.
This year, it was the first anniversary of the church shooting and the eighth anniversary of the fire. There was also going to be more attention on the first anniversary of a terrible event than an odd number like the ninth.
That has not stopped people who knew the firefighters or who have firefighters in their families from complaining that the disproportionate focus on the shooting is somehow unfair.
To a quite large extent, I understand their concerns. At the same time, I understand and truly believe that no one has set any kind of goal of “forgetting” the firefighters.
They are still remembered. They are still held dear.
Some have argued that comparing the church members to firefighters is not a fair comparison to begin with: firefighters, they argue, know they are putting their lives on the line on a daily basis. They do it anyway. Those who attended a Bible study, on the other hand, should have been able to reasonably expect their own church was a safe place. No one who was there, I’d wager walked in those doors expecting that they were putting their lives on the line.
I’ve heard others complain that those who lost friends of their own in such a tragic way ought to be better able to put themselves in the shoes of those who have more recently experienced such a loss. Those earlier mourners should, therefore, let the more recent mourners and, more specifically, those they mourn have their “moment.”
In the days and weeks (and months) after the fire back in 2007, you might be interested to know, those of us who covered the Charleston 9 received complaints from others angry that we were putting “too much focus” on “a bunch of firefighters.” Why weren’t we giving as much attention to the soldiers who had lost their lives in service to their country?
“A bunch of firefighters.”
I still remember the disrespectful tone with which that comment was made. It was bad enough to hear someone intentionally disrespect first responders; it was even worse to hear someone disrespect first responders who died because they had gone into a burning building believing someone might have been trapped inside. They weren’t going for some kind of adrenaline rush: they were trying to save lives and gave their own in the process.
As we know, when time passes after a tragedy, we tend to make a more detailed marking of the event on anniversaries in multiples of five and 10. Consider the September 11th attacks: much more was said about 9/11 on its 10th anniversary than on its ninth.
Next year will be the second anniversary of the church shooting but the 10th anniversary of the fire.
What will happen then? Will people who might have had some sort of connection to the victims of the church shooting complain about how much more coverage the fire is getting compared to how much it got this year?
No matter what, it seems, someone is going to feel slighted. They won’t necessarily be wrong, either.
I just wish everyone could realize that there’s no evil intent to bury the memory of any of the losses. One such loss, no matter the circumstances, is one too many.