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Mourning, Celebrating, Healing: Amtrak #188 Remembered in Harrowgate

Harrowgate Civic Association and the PFD Family Association bring victims, heroes and and the community together.

Many people in the Riverwards remember where they were when Amtrak Train #188 went careening off the track at more than 100 MPH on May 12, 2015. Some folks were watching TV, laying in bed, or sitting outside wondering what the nearby commotion was. Text and app alerts started beeping and buzzing phones, TV stations started breaking the news, and neighbors began talking.

But some know what the screeching wheels and crunching metal sounded like. Others knew what it smelled like. And a few even knew what it looked like, how dark it was, and what it felt like. Those people; the victims and their families, the first responders, and residents of the immediate area around the crash site are unforgettably bonded forever. The community at large came together to honor and support them.

Local government officials, many of whom skipped a lunchtime memorial in the Mayor’s reception room at City Hall, stood humbly amongst local residents and listened to survivor’s stories or a residents experience. Marc Collazzo of Rep. John Taylor’s office, Jeff George of Councilman Allan Domb’s office, State Senator John Sabatina, U.S. Congressman Bob Brady, City Councilman Mark Squilla, and D.A. Seth Williams all mingled with other guests — their party affiliations and government ranking were left at the gate.

Squilla, who did attend both ceremonies, spoke about the bravery of the first responders: “I’d like to thank them. We appreciate the service that you bring to us. You risk your lives every day to help us, to care for the people who are in danger … and sometimes not going home yourselves.”

Outgoing Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer continued that sentiment and quoted a passage from the Bible, (Isiah 6:8), which he said summed up the Fire Department. It reads, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: Who should I send? Who will go for Us? I said: Here I am. Send me.”

When 24th District Captain O’Connor took his moment to speak, he praised the response of his brethren, but added some insights to the community.

Harrowgate Amtrak Vigil

Captain O’Connor addresses the crowd./Bob Stewart

“We had neighbors that lived around here who opened their doors to the injured, who provided water, blankets, allowed people to use their phones so they could contact their loved ones and let them know that they had made it through this tragic event,” O’Connor said. “We had Clergy … taking care of [the victims] spiritual needs. Our businesses in the area sending food, sending water, sending blankets, volunteering to help out … this went on for the six days that we were out here.”

“Thank you to our wonderful business and community residents in Harrowgate,” he concluded.

Despite all of the ill-timed Monday-morning quarterbacking going on with city officials regarding the police department “scoop and run” tactic (literally scooping victims up and transporting them to the hospital as quickly as possible) folks in attendance just praised to bravery and commitment of the all of the first responders.

“I ran into a fire once — it’s called stupid, these guys do it all the time,” said Harry Enggasser, a local ward leader. “I don’t know how they do it. They’re a better person than I am.”

Gary Lower, of Juniata, wearing a tie-dyed WMMR T-Shirt, raucously cheered several times when the local heroes were mentioned. Some folks nearby gave him a hush-hush but the cops and firefighters formally standing in their dress blues seemed to get a kick out of him.

Afterward, Lower, who described himself as the “Mayor of Juniata Park,” conversed with cops and firemen and thanked them. One high-ranking official told him, “Hey bro, I just want to say, you be you. Thank you. I love it … We appreciate your support.”

Lower in-turn replied to the officer, yelling, “Hey, I wish I could have helped out! I heard the crash!” He then explained to the officer that as a youth he used to “drink back there” indicating the accident area, and then he may or may not have admitted to procuring a keg of beer or two from a box car once or twice. He then shouted to another officer walking by, “You’re a rockstar, young man!”

Harrowgate Amtrak Vigil

/Bob Stewart

Joyce John of North Jersey was on the train and attended both ceremonies with her husband, Foster. She spent four weeks after the crash at Temple University Hospital recovering from her injuries. She came to continue her healing process.

“It was emotional,” she said. “I almost didn’t make it. It’s emotional. It helps though. It helps.

“It helps the healing … it’s uplifting. It uplifts the spirit,” Foster John continued. He calmly listed his wife’s many fractures, which included “vertebrae, collarbone and ribs” and finished by saying, “You name it.”

Many people don’t take into account the toll on family members. Foster John said he “was a nervous wreck” while Temple’s team cared for Joyce. “I had to go see psychiatry while I was in there for four weeks. You can’t imagine it.”

U.S. Congressman Bob Brady presented a Congressional recognition plaque to Shannon Farrell, the Harrowgate Civic President. Farrell worked with Lisa Hogan, President of the PFD Family Association, and her associates, to pull off the event.

Afterward Farrell deflected any credit and just hoped that conditions improve at the accident site.

“I think [the ceremony] was beautiful,” Farrell said. “I just hope the families here felt honored. That they know we didn’t forget.”

She also hopes authorities don’t forget.

“They still need to do stuff back there,” Farrell said. “There’s no lighting. [The first responders] were using flashlights and their cell phones to see.”

Harrowgate Amtrak Vigil

/Bob Stewart

Spirit News remembers the deceased:

Laura Finamore 47, Jim Gaines 48, Abid Gilani 55, Bob Gildersleeve 45, Dr. Derrick Griffith 42, Rachel Jacobs 39, Giuseppe Piras 41, Justin Zemser 20.

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