The newspaper headline - "Middle River Girl Killed by Train" - could have run last week when 14-year-old Anna Marie Stickel was struck and killed by a passenger train while walking to Kenwood High School.
But the headline actually ran in May 1968, when 9-year-old Bonnie Louise Calhoun was run over near Martin Boulevard and Old Eastern Avenue - within walking distance of where Anna was killed - by a Pennsylvania Railroad train.
Little has changed over four decades on these tracks in eastern Baltimore County, where the nation's busiest passenger rail corridor divides neighborhoods from several schools. But now, after generations of living with the railroad and the pedestrian fatalities that haunt the stretch where Anna and Bonnie died, local residents are questioning why railroad, government and school officials haven't done more to protect their children.
"We've got to do something and we've got to do it soon," said Donna Yeager, whose son Brandon was one of Anna's closest friends and who said one of her Kenwood classmates died crossing the same tracks in 1975. "Common sense tells any parent a teenager is going to go from Point A to Point B in the shortest distance."
These days, the name of the railroad is Amtrak, and the trains are faster and deadly quiet. Chain-link fencing lines some stretches of the track that were unprotected in 1968, but the barrier is riddled with well-known gaps and cut-throughs that are reopened as quickly as the railroad can repair them. In other spots, such as the wide open stretch behind Rock-a-Billy's Bar & Grill where a man was killed in 1986, there is no barrier to the tracks except warning signs.
And teenagers still go from Point A to Point B in a straight line.
When six of Anna's schoolmates, who were visiting a makeshift memorial to the girl off Orems Road, were asked if they had crossed the tracks, four raised their hands.
Ben Douglass, a 33-year-old Cecil County resident who grew up in the Middle River area, remembers the unauthorized crossings from his youth.
Douglass said that as a teenager, he and his friends regularly crossed the tracks to get from his home in the Middlesex neighborhood on the south side of the tracks to the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club on Fuselage Avenue. He doesn't recall any more than perfunctory warnings from adults at the club.
The former Kenwood student, now an electrician, pointed out a well-worn path just behind the club and near the spot where Anna and a friend slipped through the Amtrak fence, according to Baltimore County police. His old cut-through there showed signs of recent repairs, and two of Anna's friends had attached a note saying "we love you." A few yards away, concealed by foliage and next to a vagrant's camp, was a gaping hole through which a man could be seen ducking onto the track bed.
Geography has made the Middle River-Essex area unusually vulnerable to tragedy on the tracks. Between Rossville Boulevard on the west and Martin Boulevard on the east runs a 2-mile stretch of railroad right of way - four tracks across - without a legal crossing. On both sides are residential neighborhoods; on the south side are several schools. Both sides are home to taverns whose customers sometimes cross the tracks while in questionable condition.
The problems in Middle River are hardly unique in Maryland. Baltimore is crisscrossed with passenger and freight rail lines that run adjacent to residential neighborhoods. Across the state, railroad communities such as Elkton, Havre de Grace, Aberdeen, Edgewood, Perryman, Chase, Relay, Laurel and Cheverly have a history of fatalities on the tracks - often teenagers using time-honored local shortcuts.
In recent years, such trespassing has claimed about 500 lives a year nationwide. In Maryland alone, more than 85 died in such incidents - whether accidents or suicides - during the past decade. In terms of deaths per 1,000 miles of tracks, the Federal Railroad Administration has ranked Maryland among the most dangerous five states.
Like other railroads, Amtrak sticks to a consistent message: Crossing or walking along its tracks is trespassing. It is illegal and dangerous. People who trespass do so at their own risk.
But in the wake of Anna's death, those who loved her and others in Middle River are questioning whether Amtrak is doing enough to keep people off its tracks.
"They put up no trespassing signs and 'Private Property.' That's not going to deter a teenager," said Anna's mother, Tara Stickel, 38, Thursday as she stood by the memorial that her daughter's friends put together along the Amtrak fence. "Kids don't think that far ahead. It's up to everybody else to protect them."
Stickel and other local residents would like to see that stretch of the Amtrak Northeast Corridor lined with structures like the Beltway's noise barriers.