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Tri-State residents feel shock of tragedy

February 02, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

One man flipped through a Civil War book. A woman and her daughter shopped for toys. Another worked inside an electronics store, surrounded by walls of televisions, all turned to the news.

Saturday afternoon people moved on with their lives, but their minds were on the seven space shuttle Columbia astronauts who perished 39 miles above Texas.

Asked for their thoughts on the Columbia disaster, some Tri-State residents immediately spoke of the families left behind.

Hugh Heclo, 58, was perusing books in a Shepherdstown, W.Va., shop. Heclo formerly worked at an observatory in Georgetown, tracking the first Sputnik.

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"Obviously, you're mostly thinking about the families that watched their loved ones die. How terrible that must be," he said.

The Circuit City store in Hagerstown opened at 10 a.m., shortly after news of the disaster broke.

"Some guy came up to us and asked if we could turn CNN on," sales counselor Ben Jones said. "Everybody stopped what they were doing and watched it."

Although just a child when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on takeoff almost exactly 17 years ago, Jennifer Fabian, 22, had that disaster on her mind, along with the Columbia.

"I find it shocking and sobering that I've lived through two shuttle disasters," said Fabian, a Shepherd College student.

Some people had not yet heard the news. Others were all too familiar with it.

"I think it's a horrible tragedy that's occurred in this nation," said Rodney Adams, 43, of Hagerstown. "Once again we've lost people that sacrificed for this country. I feel sorry for their families.

"I cried this morning when I heard the news," Adams said. "Four of those people, it was their first flight and their last."

Kirsten Roberson, 36, and her daughter were shopping for toys in a store in the Martinsburg (W.Va.) Mall.

"It's something that nobody could've done anything about," said Roberson, of Charles Town, W.Va. "The thought of the families sitting there and watching ... that was the first thing I thought of."

Friends in Texas told Roberson they heard a loud sound and that the ground shook. Although Roberson's friends went outside to try to see what had happened, they saw nothing.

"They never even thought to look up," Roberson said.

President Bush attempted to allay some fears, saying that terrorism most likely did not play a part in Columbia's demise.

Martinsburg, W.Va., resident George Wellman said he believed the president.

"I don't think it was terrorists," said Wellman, 35.

He said he worried Columbia may have been past its prime, too old to be used for any mission with lives at stake.

Wellman said he and his wife discussed the fate of the astronauts.

"We both sat down and said we hope they met their end quickly," he said.

Wellman's thoughts also veered to those in Texas.

"That's another thing I was worried about, people getting hit by the debris," he said.

"It's just terrible. It's mind boggling," said John Redding, 72, of Chambersburg, Pa. "What else is there to say?"

Staff writers Julie Greene and Richard Belisle contributed to this report.

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