Youthful victims remembered Job Corps students killed in crash memorialized

February 24, 1996|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. -- The Job Corps students killed in the commuter train crash last week were remembered at a memorial service yesterday as the best the future had to offer, "eight beautiful students" who were working to make themselves better lives.

"We are heartbroken and hurt because of the way they left us," said Andre Taylor, a classmate. "We are encouraged because they are in no more pain. They are at peace. We bid them our farewell."

More than 500 mourners attended the hourlong service in the white gymnasium on the 75-acre Job Corps campus near the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The walls were adorned with cards and notes of condolence from Job Corps students from across the country.

Claude Thomas, director of the Harpers Ferry center, said the mourners who crowded the gym were representative of the "tremendous outpouring of love for our eight students."

About 100 students, many of them wearing black ribbons, marched into the gym behind a military color guard. Many left the ceremony in tears and hugged teachers or family members afterward.

The victims were among 18 Job Corps students who boarded the ill-fated MARC train at Brunswick on Feb. 16. One student got off the train at Rockville, and nine others survived the crash. Two of those survivors returned to the Job Corps campus this week.

Ink portraits of the victims were hung on a wall amid dozens of wreaths and floral arrangements. Eight candles, one for each victim, were lighted during the memorial service, which included poetry readings, music from a gospel group and brief eulogies.

The dead students were remembered in a printed program:

Carlos Byrd, an 18-year-old from Baltimore, who was known for ** "getting the other students motivated to work." He had TTC completed his courses for the General Educational Development diploma program and planned to go to college to study medicine.

Dante Swain, 18, also of Baltimore, who had earned his GED and had completed carpentry training. He was recalled as a "quiet young man who excelled in all athletic areas."

Another Marylander, Claudius Kessoon, 20, of Landover had re-entered the Job Corps to learn brick masonry. He was remembered as "a quiet, mature and hard-working young man."

Lakeisha Marshall, 17, of Capitol Heights had completed her health occupational training and was state-certified as a nurse. "She loved to sing and dance and had a great sense of humor."

Diana Hanvichid, 17, earned her GED in the fall and was in the final phase of her vocational training to become a nurse. The Woodbridge, Va., student's trademark was her smile.

Thomas Loatman, 23, of Vienna, Va., came to the center 2 1/2 months ago. He had completed education courses and was ready to pursue vocational training in the business field. He was a "quiet, well-mannered young man."

Ka'ris Rudder, 17, earned his GED in December and was preparing to take the state certification exam in nursing in April. He was from East Elmhurst, N.Y., and was recalled as "a leader among his classmates."

Michael Woodson, 17, of Philadelphia was pursuing bricklaying as a vocation. "He was always willing to help out when called upon."

Families of four of the victims were present yesterday. Only Charon Rothmiller, a cousin of Michael Woodson, chose to speak on behalf of the families, saying Michael's mother was grateful for the Job Corps program and the help the family has received since the accident.

His mother "couldn't come right now; she's beside herself," said Ms. Rothmiller, who completed the Job Corps program in Philadelphia in 1993. "It's hard, very hard."

A written statement from President Clinton that was read during the service, urged the students to continue with the Job Corps program, which provides remedial education and vocational training for disadvantaged youth. "Your success will be the greatest tribute you can pay" to the students, the president said.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Maryland, came to extend a hand to the families and friends of the victims. "You are not alone," she told them. "God is with you. All of Maryland is praying.

"Each one was special," she said.

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