Remembering the scene of the Woodmore tragedy
On the Monday before Thanksgiving 2016, it seemed like an ordinary school bus ride for Woodmore Elementary students.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving 2016, it seemed like an ordinary school bus ride for Woodmore Elementary students. Laughter, joking around, kids making sure they had their coats, their satchels, and their lunch boxes. Just one more day until the holiday break. Six of the children on that bus, had no idea it would be their final ride.
It is still being debated exactly what went wrong. We may never know what caused the driver to veer off Talley Road, crashing into a tree. We do know, that for six families, and an entire school community, their lives would never be the same.
Jill Levine, then the county's Chief Academic Officer, said, "It was the worst moment of my life, to be honest with you. Watching families being told their children were killed in the crash. It was horrific."
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Levine was holding a meeting when her phone started buzzing, and wouldn’t stop. "As soon as I finished the meeting, I looked at my phone. There were eighteen calls, and also 9-1-1 messages from the chief of police. I started to drive across town quickly to the crash scene."
As she made her way to the Woodmore community, she soon learned some children did not survive the crash.
She said, "I heard there was a crash, and there were fatalities. I remember pulling off the highway, on Moore Road. There must have been 50 ambulances."
Within minutes, Levine and other officials found themselves in the midst of a rescue and recovery effort. While it was too late to save some of the children, others were fighting for their lives.
"Nothing could ever prepare you for this. Now I know when I see a tragedy somewhere else in the nation, I know the chaos and confusion. Now I know what that feels like," she said.
State Rep. Joanne Favors represents the families in the Woodmore neighborhood. She too was called to the scene. A former nurse, Favors has witnessed tragedy, and lost loved ones. But the after-effects of the bus accident linger to this day.
Favors said, "I haven’t driven on that street ever since. I was there when they were retrieving bodies. It is something you never get over."
Levine is among those who made the decision to open Woodmore the next day, giving students and teachers some normalcy, a place to gather. It let the community know, there would be no interruption in caring for the children. She says that commitment continues to this day.
"They were teaching that next day, taking care of the children," she said. "I have so much respect for their ability to do that."
The healing continues each day, as parents, brothers, sisters and friends carry on in the aftermath of tragedy. Levine says that wouldn’t be possible without a supportive community. That includes police and fire personnel, emergency workers, first responders and businesses who are planting trees and creating other memorials so that the children are never forgotten.