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Communities Stunned By Students’ Deaths With PM-Bus Accident, Bjt

September 22, 1989

MISSION, Texas (AP) _ Decorations and posters for a student election and the home-opening football game still hung at Mission High School today, but halls were empty as classmates mourned 19 students killed in a bus accident.

Classes and extracurricular activities were canceled after Thursday’s accident, in which a school bus plunged into a water-filled pit after being hit by a delivery truck that ran a stop sign. Sixty-four people were injured; four remained in critical condition today.

″It’s very quiet here,″ said Assistant Principal Dina Chapa. ″There was no time to take anything down. ... I haven’t focused on that today. We’re just trying to get on, I guess, and help out as much as we can.

″What we’re doing right now is collecting the personal belongings (of the victims) from lockers and ... giving out information, finding out when the funerals are for the students,″ Ms. Chapa said.

The varsity game tonight against Weslaco at the school district’s Tom Landry Stadium was canceled and a memorial service was scheduled there instead.

″It’s a community tragedy; the whole town is crying with the relatives of those who died,″ said the Rev. Frank Gomez, pastor of San Martin de Porres Catholic Church, where some victims attended Mass regularly.

″We’re going to miss them. It’ll be a sad time for the school for a while,″ said Mission Fire Marshal Lucio S. Guerra Jr., fighting back tears at a community center. ″Every time they get on the bus now, they’ll remember it.″

School board member Rosalinda Gonzalez said the reaction of school officials was ″total awe of what had occurred, but especially very strong sentiment for the families and what they must be going through.″

The district school board decided in a brief meeting after the crash to cancel today’s classes and set up crisis centers for pupils and parents needing counseling.

Residents of Mission and nearby Alton began offering support for families of the victims as news of the wreck spread.

Funds were set up for the families at First State Bank of Mission and San Martin de Porres Catholic Church.

At a service Thursday night, crash survivor Jesse Cuellar asked the Iglesia Bautista del Pueblo congregation to pray for his cousin who died in the wreck and for a neighbor who was seriously injured.

Cuellar said when the bus first plunged into the pit, ″I just felt like I was drowning.″

Several of the deceased and injured were members of school volleyball and cross country track teams, and at least one who died - Roman Quintero, a freshman - was a popular football player, a classmate said.

″He was real glad because he was going to play - it was going to be his first game,″ said Melinda Vasquez, 15, a Mission High School student.

But instead of football, school officials scheduled a memorial service tonight at the stadium where the game was to have been held.

Monette Guerrero, a seventh-grader at Mission Junior High and a friend of several on the bus, said at first she and her classmates didn’t believe anyone they knew had been in the fatal wreck.

″We were at school and we were sitting there and they said it’s a tragedy - our homeroom teachers told us,″ she said.

Later she and her classmates learned that their friend David Saenz was one of those killed.

″It hurts us just to see our friends and people we’ve known for a long time - that they won’t be there anymore,″ Miss Guerrero said.

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