Katia Williamson, 28, the mother of the girls who died in the July 4, 2002 fire in Gloucester City was interviewed recently by the Courier Post. In the interview Williamson thanked the firefighters who lost their lives. This Fourth of July marked five years since the fire and building collapse that killed her girls and three firefighters -- Fire Chief James Sylvester and Deputy Fire Chief John West of Mount Ephraim and Thomas Stewart III of Gloucester City.
"To this day, I've never spoken to or met any of their families, but I've always felt bad," Williamson said of the fallen men. "I lost my family and their families lost people they loved very much."
Williamson survived severe third-degree burns in her throat and lungs from the fire. She expressed her gratitude to all those who donated money in their time of need.
If you recall there was much controversy about the donations that people sent to help the family. Williamson lives in Northeast Philadelphia said a total of $77,500 was collected. She and her ex-boyfriend Frank Slack, the girl's father, lost three daughters, Alexandra Slack, who was five when she died along with 3-year-old twin sisters Claudia and Colletta Slack.
As for the donations after years of legal wrangling with the bank, she and Slack finally accessed the money this April. After a 9 1/2-year relationship, she separated from Slack, who now lives with his girlfriend and infant son in Philadelphia.
The Camden County Prosecutor's Office froze the memorial fund's account in the months after the fire and referred the matter to the state Attorney General's Office when questions arose about how the money was being spent, spokesman Bill Shralow said. He noted the state reviewed the fund and determined the money should be released to the girls' parents.
Instead, the matter went to court where a judge ruled the fund could only be used for a charitable cause, said Williamson, who successfully fought the court decision.
Of the money collected, $14,000 has gone to the Fallen Firemen's Monument that the Gloucester City Fire Department built on North King Street, she said, presenting copies of the check.
Another $10,000 went to Gloucester City to pay for a playground named "Angels Park" (see Photo) in memory of her daughters, she said. The playground replaced the dilapidated 3-corner $100,000 city park at the corners of Middlesex and Burlington Streets.
After legal bills, Williamson and Slack got $17,600 apiece, Williamson said.
"I wish I could write a thank-you card to everyone who gave, but I don't know who they are," she said. "I'm grateful for what people did. It helped to know people cared that much."