PARAMUS, N.J. — They lost a beloved teacher and a well-liked classmate in an awful crash between a school bus from their school and a dump truck. On Friday, the day after the fatal collision, students at East Brook Middle School here were back in school. Academic assignments were few, if any. The point of the school day was to come together to mourn and heal.
"Everyone was really crying, and it was just really sad," said Daniella Saigh, a sixth grader. "But we supported them by making stuff [that the school will] be sending to the people in the hospital."
Forty-three people were injured in the crash on Thursday, some critically. About a dozen of the students and chaperones who'd been on the school bus were still in the hospital on Friday.
The crash took place while the school bus was headed to a field trip in Mt. Olive, New Jersey, about 30 miles west of this Bergen County town, along Interstate 80. A dump truck rammed into the bus after the bus driver made a highly illegal maneuver on the highway, according to many eyewitnesses.
Students here at East Brook Middle talk about how they're pulling for the dozen or so fellow students who are still in the hospital after the crash between one of the school buses and a dump truck yesterday. Her son was on the trip.
One day later, nearly all of the children who'd been on that fifth grade field trip were back in school, including Stacy Bender's son.
"My first reaction was, 'I can't believe they're having school,'" she told PIX11 News. But upon further reflection, she said, "it was a great decision" to bring the students together to support one another.
"They did so much for our kids, and we're really in this together," said Christine Saigh. She's the mother of Danielle, the sixth grader who spoke with PIX11 News, and who is a former student of the teacher who lost her life.
"Even if we were talking a lot, she would always smile," Danielle said. "She was never mad at us."
Danielle was among hundreds of former students of the beloved teacher Jennifer Williamson, 51. She perished, along with a fifth grade student.
To help commemorate the lives lost, and to support the injured students, the school's teachers, administrators, and PTA members tied ribbons around trees and poles in the school colors of blue and white. Many of the students dressed in the colors on Friday. They, and their parents, as well as community members, also left mementos all day at a memorial in front of the school. Grief counselors were also on hand in classes.
Meanwhile, Ms. Williamson's husband said in a statement to NJ Advance Media, "My beautiful bride and I have been in total love every day of our lives since the day our eyes met on May 5th, 1994," Kennedy said. "I am in shock, devastated and totally crushed by today's tragedy to both sides of the Williamson-Kennedy families, the community she taught and the thousands of students and their families she was very proud to serve."
The collision apparently happened when the bus driver tried to make an unauthorized U-turn on I-80, after missing the exit for a field trip location, according to witnesses.
That left families of students who were on the trip angry.
"I wouldn't do that in my car, let alone a bus," said Patrick Nannola, who said that he has a commercial driver's license. "He could've gone up one exit and changed a whole day instead of changing whole lives."
The bus driver's name has not yet been publicly released. The investigation into to incident is ongoing.
All scheduled field trips at East Brook Middle School have been canceled for the rest of the year.