Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Remembering Sept. 12, 2008

This post is a few days late, but I wanted to post about it anyway.

On Saturday, I attended the dedication of the Metrolink Memorial Plaza in Simi Valley. On Sept. 12, 2008, a Metrolink passenger train bound for Simi and Moorpark collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth. The crash left 25 dead, including 10 Simi residents, and more than 135 injured. Some of you may remember this as it was all over the news after it happened.

The crash sent shock waves through the community, because even though Simi is a city of more than 125,000 people, it still has a small town feel. I think it's safe to say the tragedy was felt by all. Even if you didn't know someone on the train, you knew someone who knew someone who was on the train.

The accident happened on a Friday meaning that my weekly community newspaper was not able to put out any coverage on the crash until the following Friday. A colleague of mine wrote an overall story about the crash and its effect on the community. I wrote a story about Spree DeSha, an LAPD officer who was killed in the collision-- she always rode in the front car, in uniform. Interviewing her parents and life partner at the North Hollywood police station in the days after the crash and subsequently writing the story was an emotional experience for me. I thought about Spree and her family for a long time after that. Longer than I normally dwell on the subjects of my stories. See, even though I didn't personally know anyone on the Metrolink 111 train that day, in the course of my interviews, the accident became very personal.

It was decided quickly after the crash that the community wanted a memorial to remember those who died. In the months that followed, I attended many workshops and city council meetings related to the construction of this memorial, and wrote many more stories. Despite the (financial) obstacles, the city met its deadline-- one called for by the community-- of completing and dedicating the memorial on the first anniversary of the crash.

Hundreds of people came out for the occasion on Saturday. I attended the event with my editor; we were representing the paper but I was also there to write a story for this week's issue. The memorial plaza looked beautiful, just as it was envisioned. The ceremony was moving, reflective, hopeful. 

While taking notes kept my mind busy, at times I found myself where I was a year ago when talking to Spree's parents-- fighting back tears. I got especially choked up while talking to a girl my age who lost her father in the crash. Seeing her cry and talk about her pain brought tears to my own eyes because, though I didn't tell her this, I know how she feels. And yet, it was comforting to both her and I to see the memorial complete, to see the large number of residents that gathered to support the families of the victims as well as the survivors, and to literally feel the love as the community wrapped its arms around its own.

It's days like Saturday that make me proud to call Simi home.

In reverent memory of those who perished
in the September 12, 2008
Metrolink Train Disaster,
with hope and encouragement
for those who survived,
and with gratitude to the
first responders for their heroism
and compassion


Amber (Girl with the red hair) said...

Awww that is so sad. I've never had to write a heartbreaking story like that (thank god) I can't even imagine how tough it would be! You're super brave for doing it!!

trishiekoh said...

I love your new cute!

bethany said...

How heartbreaking...I can't imagine trying to keep composure while putting a story together for this. I'm all teary just reading about it. Many, many well wishes for those in your community who are still rebuilding their ever-changed lives.