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Friends of TWA 800 victims find solace online

January 20, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ When his fiancee died on TWA Flight 800, Anthony Worster couldn’t sleep. He walked for miles. He cried.

Searching web sites one sleepless night, he stumbled on the TWA Flight 800 Memorial Message Board. Suddenly, he was not so alone.

The World Wide Web site was filled with the emotional outpourings of people from all over the world who had lost loved ones in the July 17 crash.

``It brought me support,″ said Worster, 31, of Orono, Maine. ``For the first time I realized that no matter how bad things got, everything was going to be OK.″

Worster is one of the many people who have used the site created by Fredric Ableman, a 24-year-old from Long Island whose company, MacTrain, designs corporate web sites.

Ableman had no connection to the 230 people who died when the Paris-bound jet exploded shortly after takeoff from New York. He just wanted to provide a discussion forum for the public.

``It was really a surprise to me when the families started posting messages, but that makes it all worth doing,″ he said.

Many people have turned to the web site for solace, often finding it more comforting than friends or relatives. Relatives also correspond on a site called The Families of Flight 800.

``The hype has died down and now it’s starting to hit you and there’s nobody else to turn to,″ said Matt Ziemkiewicz, 29, whose sister was a flight attendant on Flight 800.

``There’s times when you’re wide awake late at night and you can just jump on the Internet,″ he said. ``It can be very therapeutic.″

On what would have been his sister’s 24th birthday, Ziemkiewicz left a message: ``HAPPY BIRTHDAY JILL. Dear GOD, how we miss you!″

Jeff Bohlin’s 15-year-old daughter, Michelle, was one of 16 teen-agers from Montoursville, Pa., who died in the crash while on a school trip. A snowfall recently brought back memories of his only child. He turned to the web site to express them.

``Often after a snowfall one can hear the gleeful voices of the children sled-riding in the cemetery,″ he wrote. ``Tonight, after dark, I went up to the cemetery to visit my daughter’s grave ... In some small way, it made me happy to hear gleeful children enjoying the snow.″

Thousands of people take a look at the web site every day. Most do not post messages but many do. Some offer condolences; others theorize on what caused the explosion or give advice on lawyers.

Acting as a vessel for grief, or a wellspring for information, is not unusual for the Internet.

Similar setups were established after the 1994 Kobe earthquake in Japan and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and a service called GriefNet also organizes support groups for widows and people who have lost siblings.

``The Internet ... is serving the function that communities and families have served from time immemorial,″ said Therese Rando, a Warwick, R.I., psychologist.

Worster recalled seeing an anonymous message posted two days before Christmas by someone identified only as ``I loved you so much.″

``It’s Christmas and you should be home with family laughing and smiling, the life of the party. But I had to insist on you changing your flight plans and I led you to your grave. I’m so sorry.″

Worster responded: ``I know you’re hurting so badly. I’m going through something very much like you are. You got to let it go ... and allow yourself to live again.″

___

Editors: The address for the TWA Flight 800 Memorial Message Board is http://www.nystate.com; for The Families of Flight 800, http://members.aol.com/hseaman275/families.html; for GriefNet, http://rivendall.org

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