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Pilgrims visit crash site

BY SUSAN KIM | SHANKSVILLE, PA | March 27, 2002

Still the pilgrims visit this tiny town in rural Pennsylvania.

Nearly seven months have passed since United Flight 93

exploded into a field behind this tiny rural

Pennsylvania town.

For days the community's 245 residents worked side-by-side with FBI agents, fire officials, politicians, and

salvage crews swarming the scene. Volunteers from local

churches ministered to investigation teams, bringing

meals, hot coffee, and simple prayers.

Now it's down to a dull roar as mourning families

decide what kind of a memorial will be located in

Shanksville.

Meanwhile, strangers continue to make pilgrimages to Shanksville just to see the site of the crash, said the Rev. Bob Way, pastor at the Good Shepherd Cooperative

Lutheran Ministry. Before Sept. 11, Shanksville was "a

secluded spot," said Way.

Not anymore. People come to visit the crash site, and

"that will continue," he said. "Not a day goes by that

people aren't up at the crash."

As the families who lost loved ones decide what kind of

memorial to erect in Shanksville -- a process Way said

could take two or three years -- at least some

Shanksville residents are having trouble finding closure.

"It's like a bruise that doesn't want to heal," Way

said. "A lot is in the hands of the families."

And that is as it should be, he said, but "a lot of

people in town would like to have some say" in what

shape the memorial, which will eventually be overseen by

the National Park Service, will take. But at this point,

"that may or may not be the case. It's not an easy

process."

Some Shanksville residents met with the stricken

families in Washington, DC to talk about the memorial,

he said. In an unusual move this week, the FBI approved

a decision to allow relatives of the 44 passengers and

crew killed on the flight to listen to the cockpit

recordings. They will listen in a private session in

Princeton, NJ on April 18.

One way some residents are coping is to represent

their own community at the site as pilgrims from around the world find their way to the site.

Ten members of the

Shanksville United Methodist Church participated in a

program developed by their church, the Somerset County

Historical Society, local fire fighters, and other

townspeople to train people to answer questions posed by

visitors.

A total of 19 townspeople participate as hosts at the

crash site. It's a way of handling visitors while, at

the same time, it's an outlet for those who want to do

something in the wake of terrible tragedy, said the Rev.

Ron Emery of Shankville United Methodist Church.

Right after the crash, "people called in and everybody

wanted to help," said Emery, especially since

Shanksville considers itself a patriotic town. But

because the disaster site was a crime scene there was

little anybody could do at first.

Some people responded immediately by preparing food for

the rescue workers, he said. Volunteers at Camp

Allegheny, a nearby Methodist camp, made sandwiches for

FBI, state police, and others who worked long shifts.

The jet crashed in a field in Shanksville after setting

out from Newark, NJ for San Francisco. It was apparently

headed toward Washington when it went down. It is

thought that passengers tried to overcome the hijackers

before the crash.

Beyond the immediate response in Shanksville there were

emotional issues that had to be worked through,

especially for elderly people and youth, said Emery.

People who are born in Shankville tend to return to

settle there even if they spend time away, he said, and

the town has several World War II veterans. "A lot of

them had survivor's guilt and there were those issues to

be worked through," said Emery. "What's the closest

thing to the terrorist attacks? The attack on Pearl

Harbor. For those who came out of the World War II era,

it's sort of like a flashback situation."

A few older people "get a little obsessed with what's

going on. Their whole life centers" on the crash

aftermath. "They might not have a daily routine to keep

them occupied."

And many young people have gotten tired of the

publicity, said Emery. "They want to get out of the

limelight. They're saying 'let's get on with our lives.'"

And as Easter approaches in Shanksville, Way tries

to lift up a hopeful theology. "I personally am still

lifting up the issue that this was evil that happened.

"Not necessarily evil people but an evil choice." Way is

the first to admit his point of view isn't popular

across the board but he maintains that "God creates

everything good, and so people aren't evil - it's their

choices that are evil."

If his theological explanation helps somebody cope with

their post-9/11 emotions, "then one of my seminary

professors must have done well," he said.

Way and other Shanksville pastors have a tight

ecumenical circle. Together they hosted a six-month

anniversary memorial service in Shanksville at which

Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and other

denominations were represented.

Whatever theology greets them, people are flocking to

church, especially during Holy Week before Easter, said

Pastor Sylvia Baker of the Shanksville Assembly of God.

"For me it's just a continual need to reassure people

God is in control."


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