Montoursville Remembers Its Own Tragedy

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MONTOURSVILLE -- One community in Lycoming County went through a similar tragedy in the mid 1990's. 

Montoursville lost 16 students and five adults in the TWA Flight 800 explosion and people there can begin to understand what Newtown, Connecticut is going through.

A lone, solitary angel keeps watch in Montoursville Memorial Gardens near the high school. 

The statue of the angel and the 21 trees that surround it are constant reminders of dark days in this community's history.  

16 students and five chaperones died when the plane they were on exploded after takeoff from New York in July 1996. Craig Kurtz was with the victims' parents then and as principal of Lyter Elementary School in Montoursville, lately his thoughts have been with the loved ones of the victims in Newtown, Connecticut. 

"That was the main thing that hit me was what they're going to have to go through, the grief and try to come to grips with what happened," said Kurtz.

The flags outside Montoursville area schools are at half-staff symbolizing the hurt this community feels for the senseless deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary.

While some may never come to fully grasp what happened and why, Kurtz believes it's important for members of the community to be there for one another now more than ever.

"The important thing is the community comes together and stays close and stays close-knit which Montoursville is a close community and has stayed close," he said.

 More than 16 years ago, Montoursville was put on the map for all the wrong reasons, much like Newtown is today. Not only did this community have to grieve for the loss of young life, Montoursville had to do it in front of the national media.

"Within hours our high school in Montoursville was surrounded by everything," said retired teacher Richard Felix. "With cameras and reporters everywhere."

Felix was on the crisis team that helped students, teachers and more cope with the loss of those students and adults. 

"The shock is what's going to take a while for the community to accept and to cope with," said Felix.

Years have gone by helping to heal the wounds Montoursville suffered. For those who have lived through tragedy, their hope is that Newtown can someday get back some of what it lost.  

"That's what I hope for Newtown, that they can go back to that age of innocence," said Kurtz.