MOUNT OLIVE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – It was supposed to be a field trip full of fun.
But happiness turned to heartbreak and fear for these East Brook Middle School fifth graders.
“My best friend was on that bus and I was so scared,” fifth grader Anusri Chinthala told CBS2’s Jessica Layton.
They were understandably distraught during early dismissal after a school bus carrying classmates collided with a dump truck on Route 80 in Mount Olive hours earlier, killing one student and one teacher and leaving dozens more hospitalized.
“It’s kind of hard to explain, but I’m scared for my friends that were on the bus,” said fifth grader Gabriel Tsilman, whose cheeks were soaked with tears as he told Layton he was on bus three headed to Waterloo Village.
It’s bus two, he said, that crashed. He didn’t see it – thank goodness, said his grandmother.
“Shaking, I was just shaking,” she said.
Parents and grandparents of children not directly involved in the tragedy rushed to the school’s auditorium, where they were reunited with their precious little ones, recounting the chilling moments they wondered if it was their child who was hurt.
“I cried the whole time. It’s very emotional,” said parent Manny Pinto.
“Shocking, very shocking. I was just hoping it wasn’t my son, and I feel bad for the parents that were – that their kids were on the bus,” parent Donald Lazorchak said.
The scene inside the school where parents were given updates by police and district officials was described as chaotic and somber.
“All we know is a tractor-trailer hit it, it fell over, there were some children ejected. It’s just a horrible, horrible scene,” one woman said.
“This is a devastation right now for our community, for the families involved, for the East Brook Middle School,” Paramus Police Commissioner Holly Tedesco said.
But in the midst of the pain, there’s also a sense of peace for the parents leaving with their kids in their arms. They know they are the lucky ones.
“I’m not letting him go. No more field trips,” said one woman.
“I got my kids, that’s all that matters,” a man said.
Bergen County Executive James Tedesco III said that schools will be open Friday, with crisis counselors on hand to help students and staff.
“Make sure that when you leave here today, for those of you that have loved ones, you go home and you say how much you love them and give them a kiss, because there are people that, tonight, are struggling to be able to do that, and in some cases not able to,” he said.
Evening activities have been cancelled, but aftercare will continue.
“We would like to thank the Paramus Community for their support during this very difficult time. Our hearts go out to the families of our students, staff and community members. We also thank the first responders who did a tremendous job,” the school district said in a statement Thursday night.