Memorial honors fire victims

OCEAN ISLE BEACH -- It has been nearly seven months since a massive house fire killed seven college students vacationing in Ocean Isle Beach. Six others escaped the fire. Family and friends of the vicitms, along with town officials, gathered Friday to honor those who lost their lives. A private ceremony was held at the Ocean Isle Beach Fire Department, at which people spoke, prayed, and shared memories of the victims. Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith said, "We remembered those that are no longer with us. We recognized those that were still with us." After the ceremony, the group moved outside to unveil a new memorial. A monument includes the seven victims' names, the date of the fire: Oct. 28, 2007, and a quote: "Friends Together Forever." A steel cross, made by a local welder, sits next to the monument. The man who made the cross placed it at the site of the fire soon after it happened, and town leaders have been waiting to find an appropriate place to put it. Both the cross and monument were donated to the memorial site. Genie Lee's son, William Rhea, died in the fire. Her other son, Andrew Rhea, escaped. She traveld from Florence, SC for the ceremony. She said, "It was very difficult to come, but I'm very glad I did and I'm very appreciative to the people of Ocean Isle for having this." Rick Wylie's son, Tripp, survived the fire by jumping out of a third-floor window. "It was important to us, my wife and I, to show our appreciation to the folks here at Ocean Isle, not just for the memorial, but for the efforts they put forth on the day of the fire," said Wylie. The memorial is at the base of the bridge going into Ocean Isle Beach. Mayor Smith said, "It's peaceful, among the trees, it's tranquil, we hope that it will remind everybody that these are friends together forever." The students who died in the Oct. 28 fire were Travis Cale, Cassidy Pendley, Justin Anderson, Lauren Mahon, William Rhea, Emily Yelton, and Allison Walden.

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I am like you; I cannot believe the Bald Head Island community will not allow you and your family to put up a memorial for your sister. I did not know her but have talked to your mother a few times when I was helping campaign for Jon David for D.A. I will always believe and think that she was MURDERED too! I have looked at the website that you and your mother posted in her memory and it all makes sense that is what happened. I can only hope for you and your family that justice is one day served very soon. Much love and peace to you and your family! You all are always in my thoughts and prayers! ~M.R.~
Also; my thoughts and prayers do go out to the fire victims families, friends and survivors of this horrible tragedy! I am so sorry for your loss. The memorial is so beautiful; my sister and I passed by it on the way from the beach today; just beautiful and breathtaking; what a wonderful way to remember these young bright and beautiful vicitims of this tragedy. Much love and peace to you all! ~M.R.~
I would like to thank the officials and citizens of Ocean Isle for showing true concern and love for the fire victims and the affected families. They also have shown over time that they and the fire department members have been truly affected as well by this tragedy. I wish that my sister Davina, if she had had to die as she did, had had it happen to her on the police force in Ocean Isle instead of where it did. We are still not able to have any kind of memorial or even leave flowers where she was found, much less expect those people to put up any kind of memorial for her. This week marked another year when she was not listed as a fallen police officer because of her death being listed as a 'suicide.' When people have lost a loved one, your continued show of support and shared loss will appreciated by the survivors long beyond what they can ever tell you. This I know. I thank you for them. I am proud to know there are folks like you in this county.