The moment you discover that a loved one has disappeared from your life is indelibly imprinted on your memory, something personal and private.
For the parents and friends of the Montoursville Area High School students who died 25 years ago in the TWA Flight 800 crash 12 minutes after takeoff, that moment became a public disaster and their private grief was shown to the world.
The small town of Montoursville became the epicenter of the news cycles that many residents would remember years later.
In the crash, which is considered to be the third largest aircraft accident, 212 passengers and 18 crew members were killed, including 16 students from Montoursville and five companions on the way to France. They were part of a French club and looked forward to learning about the culture and improving their language skills.
Stephanie Bedison was a high school teacher and cross country trainer. Two of their athletes were on the flight – Jordan Bower and Jody Loudenslager.
Bedison’s grief forced her to run a memorial run with awards in memory of the two students. Every five years runners and walkers come together to let people know that the memory of those 21 people who were fellow students, friends, and family members lives on.
Some of the children in school today are the children of the students who were in classes in the 1990s.
“In this way we make sure that we pass on what happened that day as we were all witnesses and were all part of it.” said Bedison.
Bedison thinks this is especially important because many people at the school – the administration as well as the teachers – don’t know what happened.
“There are very few teachers, they are all retired – 25 years later. We try to draw more attention to likes, that’s why there is a huge beautiful statue in the middle of our city. You have to be able to explain. This is an essential part of our history “, She said.
“We’re trying to create awareness of what happened. Why does the world know about us? Why did we get all these thousand dollars to create this statue? They weren’t just locals, they were from all over the world. “ said Bedison.
On the day the crash happened, Bedison shared that it looked almost surreal as a lot of people were watching the news on TV. Then many went to high school.
“When we realized and confirmed by flight number TWA Flight 800 that it was the flight and it was confirmed by the school and some parents that it was the flight, we all went to high school. Everyone flocked to high school because that’s the focal point in Montoursville. It’s a safe place “, She said.
At the time of the crash, the district had a student support team to help students deal with it.
“We were there, some parents came to find out what happened. We were there to comfort each other while trying to find out what happened. “ She said.
Buses came that day to take any parents or family members who wanted to go to New York to find more information. Several members of the student support team, including Bedison, traveled with them.
“I remember that. Then it gets crazy “, she said, remembering the national and global media appearance in Montoursville.
“We were a little overwhelmed. It’s like, ‘Who are you?’ “ said Bedison.
“Helicopters are flying in. Planes everywhere. It’s like OK what do we say? We didn’t understand what they wanted. We didn’t know what happened and the old question: ‘How are you feeling?’ Are you serious,” She said.
“You ask our students how they feel! Seriously? It’s just so wrong. They persecuted people. It was just a little overwhelming, to say the least. “ She said.
“But we did it. Looking back, because we were in the spotlight around the world, they saw what a lovely little town Montoursville is and how close we are. How we bonded and how we came together to support ourselves and families. These students are children who were very close and the families, the teachers. We loved our children. Teachers find that they are your children too and that you are very protective. I think we at least had a chance to show the world how close we are – what Montoursville will do for each other. “ She said.
Maynard Bogart was a math teacher at the grammar school at the time. He knew many students and their parents. Bogart’s daughter had considered going on the French club trip.
“My youngest daughter was friends with Cheryl Nibert and she wanted to do this trip and we wouldn’t let her go because we had already booked a place in the Outer Banks for the family, which we did every year back then. We wouldn’t let her go “ he said.
Bogart, who retired in 2003, said his family was at the resort at the time of the crash.
“My relatives called all of us at home to see if there was something wrong with our children. They couldn’t get us. “ Bogart said cell phones were rare in 1996.
“They were good kids and had a lot of friends and a lot of people they knew. Most of the people in town knew almost everyone. “ he said.
Bogart also remembered Debbie Dickey, the high school French teacher who organized the trip. Debbie Dickey and her husband Doug Dickey were among the victims on the plane.
“She was just a great person. She really built up the French classes and did an excellent job with the kids. You actually learned to speak French. “ he said.
“From day one, she started speaking French and teaching them things they needed to know.” he said. “She did a good job.”
“They were all good students. And Debbie was great. I met your husband Doug, a damn nice guy. They had a little girl and of course she was left at home. She grew up without her parents. “ he said.
Bogart helped set up a memorial room in the General John Burrows Historical Society museum containing ephemera from around the world to commemorate Flight 800. The room will open today, Saturday, July 17, in honor of the 25th anniversary from 10am to 3pm be open to tragedy.
While the world was focused on Montoursville after July 17, 1996, another man, Skip Pulcrano, began a 25-year friendship with the people affected by the tragedy.
Pulcrano was running a cheerleading program called ShoreCheer at the time.
“It was a cheerleading program, but our main focus was on community service. So the children traveled all over the country doing charitable projects. “ said Pulcrano.
Pulcrano had been living on the bank at the time of the crash.
“I heard the explosion and thought it was a clap of thunder” he said.
He went outside to check his car windows, but when he looked up there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. He went back to his house and turned on the television. Then came the reports that the plane had exploded over the ocean.
A week later there was a large cheerleading camp in southern New Jersey that hundreds of people attended, Pulcrano said.
“The children brought six large megaphones and had them signed by children from all over the United States.” he said.
About three weeks after the crash, Pulcrano said his group had contacted the school in Montoursville and made arrangements to give the school the megaphones.
“The reason we got involved is because two cheerleaders were killed on the trip to Montoursville.” he said. “That was our very first event. It was just amazing. It touched the children very much. “
The first program took place in the school canteen.
“All the cheerleaders from Montoursville were there. We had 21 cheerleaders. Some of the parents of the children who were killed were there. It was very emotional “, he said.
Since then, the group has returned each year for a program in three phases, starting with distributing flowers across the district. Then they go to the memorial of Flight 800 to hoist flags and place flowers. Eventually, the group headed to the cemetery to place flowers on the graves and hold a ceremony, Pulcrano said.
“What’s really weird is 2010 or 2011, we had a group of kids there and we did our little ceremony at the high school memorial and the high school director would always come out and talk to the kids to explain what has happened.” he said.
“When we were getting ready to leave, a man was sitting all alone in the back and watching. The director said this is Mr. Grimm. His daughter was killed in the crash. “ he said.
One of the cheerleaders went to Grimm, gave him a flower and started talking to him. Then he came to the group and said: “You know, we saw all these flowers on our children’s graves and here at the memorial and until now we didn’t know who did it.”
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