Updated: 12/29/10 9:42 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – For the second time in just one week, hundreds of firefighters in Chicago are saying goodbye to one of their own. A wake was held Wednesday for fallen firefighter Corey Ankum.
People were coming in and out of the Apostolic Church of God, at 6320 S. Dorchester Ave., to say their goodbyes Wednesday.
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One by one, comrades in uniform paid tribute to the fallen Chicago firefighter.
At 5 p.m. the crowd outside the church stood more than 1,000 strong in a traditional salute.
There were firefighters from South Holland, York Central, Palatine, Evanston, and cities and towns across the country and from Canada.
Firefighters from Ankum’s own company led the way.
Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff said, “They’re some tough men and women. They truly are. They’re sucking it up for the family. They’re putting it together for the family. We want it to be perfect and that’s what it’s about.”
As a flag is hoisted up on a fire ladder at the Apostolic Church of God, in memory of Corey Ankum, a flag hangs on the fence outside of the neglected building less than a mile away, where Ankum’s life came to an end.
Silence parallels the two places where family, friends, and fellow firefighters and police officers pay their respects.
“This is a very hard moment, very, very extra hard moment for us to go through, because we’ve lost one of our own,” said Firefighter Alvin Turner. “He’s a brother, and he will always be a brother to me.”
Exactly one week ago today, Ankum, who spent just a little more than year on the fire department fought a fire inside a former laundromat, when the roof and wall collapsed without warning.
The fire commissioner said the crew went inside searching for possible homeless people.
Investigators are still trying to figure out who started that blaze.
The criminal investigation remains in the hands of police bomb and arson detectives, who told CBS 2 today they have no leads as to who or what started the fire in the abandoned building, owned by Chuck Dai.
No one came to the door at Chuck Dai’s South Holland house when we went searching for answers.
Dai’s son told CBS 2 over the phone, the family is trying to sort out the facts.
Meanwhile, the city is not pointing fingers at Dai; only saying it’s reviewing a 2009 court case requiring Dai to correct 14 violations.
Ankum’s cousin, Lee Ayers, drove from Alabama to Chicago, hoping to get some closure.
“For any young person to pass on, and in his profession and what he was doing, it’s just sad and hard,” said Ayers. “That’s why I’m here today, just had to come. I’ve been struggling with it and didn’t know how to feel. I’m just going to remember the good things about him, when he used to be at my house.”
Even those who never met Ankum, drove for hours to say a final goodbye.
“Wanted to come pay our respects for the city of Chicago and the fallen firefighters,” said Assistant Police Chief Randy Linker of New Haven, Ind.
Supporting Ankum’s family tonight was a woman who knows their anguish all too well.
“We’re with them in hearts, minds and soul, and we know the pain they’re going through,” said Mary Wheatley.
Mary is the mother of firefighter and paramedic Christopher Wheatley, who also recently died on the job.
And she says with time comes comfort.
“Each day as it comes, moment by moment, it gets a little easier because of course you know your loved one is with you and giving you strength,” said Wheatley. “However, it’s very difficult to lose the person who is so important to your life.”
Corey Ankum was a father of three and a husband.
Ankum’s mom’s pastor says the support brings her peace.
“She asked me, ‘Pastor, I’m sitting here looking at my son. I don’t know what to do. What do I supposed to do?’ And my words to her were to just stay in God’s arms and let God keep you because Corey is alright now,” said Bishop Virgil Jones.
On Tuesday, more than 1,000 people turned out for Edward Stringer’s funeral at St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel, 7740 S. Western Ave. Mayor Richard M. Daley and Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff both spoke, and uniformed firefighters from across the United States and Canada were in attendance.
The visitation for Ankum ended at 8 p.m. Wednesday. His funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at the same church: Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave. He will be buried at Lincoln Cemetery.
CBS 2’s Susanna Song and Pamela Jones contributed to this report.