Related topics

Classes Resume at Elementary School Where Tornado Killed 7 With PM-Day of Mourning, Bjt

November 21, 1989

NEWBURGH, N.Y. (AP) _ Schoolchildren clasping their parents’ hands returned to class today for the first time since a tornado killed seven classmates in the cafeteria.

Flowers were piled high outside the cafeteria wall, but with a stiff wind whipping the American flag on its flagpole nearby, few people paused at the boarded-up wall at East Coldenham Elementary School.

Children riding school buses waved and smiled as they passed reporters and police clustered at the end of the driveway to the 270-student school. Reporters were kept away from the school, and school officials had no comment.

Seven 7- and 8-year-olds were killed and 18 others injured last Thursday when a tornado slammed into the cafeteria wall, raining glass and concrete on students having lunch.

Dozens of pupils visited the damaged cafeteria on Monday. Though students and their parents were encouraged to look at the cafeteria, they won’t eat lunch there any time soon, Principal Harvey Gregory said.

The cafeteria carries the spray-painted epitaph: ″Pray for the Children.″

More than 20 counselors were on hand Monday and were to return today.

In some ways, the hardest task was reassuring parents, Gregory said.

″Students are very resilient,″ Gregory said. ″They get back very quickly. But parents - dealing with the fears and traumas. ‘How do I send my kid back into the cafeteria?’ I can reassure parents now that they will never go back into that cafeteria in its present form.″

Funerals were held Monday for five young victims and two were held Saturday. Eleven of the 18 injured children remained hospitalized, two in critical condition.

Compounding the tragedy, a 5-year-old East Coldenham pupil, Rosalie Sbordone, died Monday from injuries suffered in a car accident the day before. The accident happened only a few hundred yards from the school, but was unrelated to the steady stream of mourners there, police said.

At the school, Sheryl Pressel choked back sobs while leaving with her 10- year-old son, Billy, who wasn’t hurt.

″What amazes me are some of the parents of the children that died are in there today,″ Pressel said. ″I don’t think I could handle that. If I had a child that I lost in that school, I wouldn’t want to go back in there.″

Billy said he ″felt sort of regular″ coming back to the school for the first time since the tornado.

″All I felt was a little sadness,″ he said. ″It helped me a little.″

Parents leaving the school stopped their cars to watch the funeral procession for 8-year-old Maria Stumer pass.

Rooms at the reopened school were set aside for adults and children to slip off to if they become upset, said Horst Graefe, director of personnel for the Valley Central School District.

It will cost nearly $400,000 to rebuild the cafeteria wall, but school Superintendent James Coonan said he wants to make it look as different as possible, with less glass.

″We’ll do anything to make it comfortable for the kids,″ he said. ″If we have to make like booths in McDonald’s, we will.″

Update hourly