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Young fire victims 'always had a smile'

February 17, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

o Sisters, ages 12 and 15, die in Hancock blaze

HANCOCK -- Eric Michael, principal at Hancock Middle-Senior High School, last saw Nicole Gross on Friday. She had just gotten out of cooking class.

"Mr. Michael, you gotta have one of our cookies," the principal said Nicole told him.

"She gave me a valentine cookie," Michael said Tuesday during a telephone interview.

Nicole, 15, and her 12-year-old sister, Mary, died in a fire Monday night in their home at 220 Old Route 40 in Hancock.

They transferred into the Washington County School system at the beginning of the school year, Michael said.

Nicole and Mary transferred to the Hancock school from Allegany County(Md) Public Schools, where they last attended Braddock Middle School, said Washington County Public Schools spokesman Richard Wright.

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The school system sent its crisis team, which consists of area psychologists and counselors, to the Hancock school Tuesday morning, said Steven Burnett, supervisor of school counseling.

Burnett said he was notified of the girls' deaths at 2 a.m. Tuesday and began getting the crisis team in place.

Teachers read a prepared announcement to students at the beginning of the day about what happened. The 12 crisis team members then were available to students; three members remained at the school through lunch, he said.

The principal described the mood Tuesday as "somber" at what he described as a close-knit school community.

"They weren't here very long," Michael said of the girls.

"In the short time we were able to know them here, each day you could see them with more and more friends," he said.

Both girls were "very good students," the principal said.

"They always had a smile on their faces," he said.

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