ENGLEWOOD — Locals Mitch and Shannon Mesenburg don’t know police Sgt. Kelvin Ansari who was shot to death last week. But on Saturday, they will climb 41 floors worth of stairs to help this fallen officer’s family and other first responders pay off their mortgage.
The Englewood couple are among the 500 who entered The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Climb at the Tampa City Center. In the last three months, a five-member team — Solid 7 — surpassed a $700 goal by raising $3,050.
“This is something that’s near and dear to both my wife Shannon and my heart,” said Mitch, a Realtor at Michael Saunders in Englewood. “There are several personal reasons we do this climb.”
The event is done in the memory of Stephen Siller, a New York City Firefighter. On Sept. 11, 2001, he had finished his shift. Siller was headed to play golf with his brothers when the plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He called his wife Sally and said he was going back to work. Wearing his 60 pounds of gear, Siller raced to the World Trade Center. He was one of the 343 firefighters who died saving others. He left behind five children and six siblings.
His family and friends established the foundation for families of first responders like Ansari, who scarified his life to protect people. Ansari was shot Saturday by a robbery suspect in Savannah, Georgia. His name was added to the foundation’s website to honor him and help his widow and five children pick up the broken pieces.
On Thursday, Siller’s brother was at Ansari’s funeral. The foundation pledged $100,000 toward the Ansari’s family mortgage, with a promise to pay off their home.
Through nationwide tower climbing fundraising events like in Tampa, thousands are raised to help families of first responders and military members after catastrophe strikes them.
While Shannon has always been afraid of heights, she’s not afraid to climb to the top of Tampa’s third-tallest building for a good cause. She’s been training on a stair climber for a couple of months. Mitch hasn’t, but says he doesn’t mind a couple of days of pain he’ll endure after the climb.
“Shannon was working in the World Trade Center in 1993,” Mitch said. “She was stuck in the stairwell for five hours. She was going to take the elevator but decided to take the stairs that morning when the plane hit the building. It’s a miracle she survived.”
Mitch said firefighters climb the stairs in full gear.
“We do it in our kilts and biker boots that add a little weight to it,” he said. “We will be wearing our special Solid 7 T-shirts.”
Mitch said there’s a sentimental meaning behind the team name Solid 7. It comes from their adopted son XinHua. His biological father left him in a park in China when he was 5. He didn’t speak English when the Mesenburgs adopted him. They raised him locally, and XinHua later joined the military. While stationed in Qatar, he kept in touch with his parents. One day he sent them a photo of him in front of a tank.
“I texted him ‘Son, you are a darn handsome man’ and he replied ‘Eh, I am a Solid 7,’” Mitch said.
A few months later, on Jan. 5, military police called the couple saying XinHua left a note for them at Andrews Joint Base in Maryland. He died by suicide.
“When we were thinking about what we should name our team for the Tampa climb, we thought of our son,” Mitch said. “We thought of when he told us he was a Solid 7. Hence our five-member team with Shannon’s sisters and us became Solid 7 in honor of XinHua and all first responders who are no longer with us.”
Mitch said suicide shouldn’t be a taboo subject.
“With our son, there were no signs. But there are those that are crying out for help, or showing outward signs of stress,” he said. “Please take the time to hug your loved ones, pay attention to changes in their behavior, and learn more about veteran suicide. We need to stop this tragedy from happening to any other families.”
Mitch said the Siller Foundation also helps wounded veterans or first responders retro-fit their home if they are hurt in the line of duty.
Mitch, who is a member of Leadership Englewood, said he’s going to do the Tampa climb Friday and then work all day Saturday at the luau fundraiser in Englewood sponsored by the group.
“I’m not going to get much sleep at all in the next few days, but it will all be well worth it,” he said.