Daughter of firefighter killed in Pang Warehouse fire remains positive as arsonist released early from prison

Thursday, September 27th was a rough but manageable day for North Bend resident Amy Graham. It was the day when Martin Pang – the  man responsible for the death of her dad – walked out of state prison a free man after serving 20 years of a 35 year sentence. He was released early through a state policy that grants inmates ‘earned release time’ for good conduct.

Pang was convicted on four counts off felony manslaughter for setting fire to his family’s warehouse on January 5, 1995 that took the lives of four Seattle firefighters, including Amy’s father Lt. Gregory Shoemaker.

The high-profile and lengthy legal process included prosecutors reducing charges from murder to manslaughter in a deal to get Brazil – which did not extradite for murder charges and where Pang had fled – to send him back to Washington.  He was eventually returned, convicted and began his sentence in 1998, but it was not to the life sentence Amy feels he deserved.

Amy said she didn’t want yesterday to be about Pang – whom she feels is not “in the least bit remorseful,” but rather about remembering the firefighters and what a significant piece of state history the Pang Warehouse Fire fire was. She said she believes firefighting changed after the tragic fire where the first floor of the warehouse collapsed causing the firefighters’ deaths.

If Amy had her way, the fire would be covered in Washington State history books. She commented that with so many new residents to the area, many just don’t understand just how devastating the massive fire was.

With a shaky voice fighting back tears, Amy recounted the day of the fire. She was only 20-years old, starting the second semester of her junior year at WSU. Her sister was a senior in high school. Her family lived in Maple Valley and her dad commuted to Seattle – to firehouse 13 on Beacon Hill, which was one of the first on the scene of the huge International District fire.

She described her dad, who was only 43 when he died, as an “old school” instinctual firefighter. He was the one who took off his helmet while inside the burning building and screamed at crews to get out. Amy said he had sensed the floor was going to give in. He was later found in the basement without his helmet, which was how they determined it was her dad who had warned the other firefighters.

Amy said every January 5th  feels like a band-aid getting ripped off. She goes to the anniversary at the fire site each year, bringing her kids along to talk to the firefighters. She said even after all of these years it helps to just talk about it, get it all out.

She is married now. The wedding was hard without her dad. Her son is named Gregory in his honor. Turning 44 was especially difficult as it came with the realization that she had outlived her father.

But Amy is still positive. She’s a teacher, just starting her first year at Mount Si HIgh School instructing horticultural science and the school’s first agricultural science course. She likes working with the kids and sharing some of her own life wisdom, saying when students think things are just too difficult, her own life experience leads her to tell them they can overcome. That it is possible.

Amy is a survivor, but also wants to remember, honor, find the lessons, and maybe even some silver lining in her father’s death… like hoping what was learned in the wake of the warehouse fire that changed her life, helped save the lives of other firefighters during the past 23 1/2 years.

Lt. Shoemaker is pictured below. The picture was hand sketched by Amy’s younger sister and given to him two-weeks before the fire. Lt. Shoemaker was so proud of the sketch that he drove around with it in the fire truck, showing it to everyone saying “look what my daughter drew.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Frau Rosen says:

    As a native Seattleite and a lifelong resident of the area, I remember the fire—and the bravery of the firefighters—very well. Amy, thanks for sharing your story. May your father’s memory be a blessing.

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