PARAMUS, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Investigators are trying to figure out what caused a deadly school bus crash during a field trip in New Jersey while a community tries to cope with the loss.
It was an emotional return to school Friday morning at East Brook Middle School in Paramus, where people have been leaving flowers, cards and condolences, CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reported.
Greeted by police and grief counselors, staff and students consoled each other.
“Sad. All these kids had to go through it, they were so tiny,” said 10th grade student Gianna Egbert. “Definitely hard for them all of us. We’re so close.”
David Chun held his daughter’s hand a little tighter, knowing that life can change in an instant.
“I thought about her a lot,” he said. “You wake up one day, and something like that happens. It’s just too much to bear.”
More than 40 students and chaperones were riding the bus on I-80 in Mount Olive when it collided with a dump truck, ripping the bus apart.
“It’s tough when you’re that age and you see something so serious and tragic happening,” Parth Vaidya said of his young brother who attends the middle school. “He’s sad, of course. His friends are hurt, their families are hurt.”
The impact killed a 10-year-old female student, who has not yet been identified, and 51-year-old Jennifer Williamson, a well-loved teacher.
“She was my fifth grade teacher last year,” said student Savannah Clark. “I feel really sad and devastated because I’ve had her for one whole year and she made things really fun and helpful for us kids, but now she can’t anymore.”
Williamson’s husband sent CBS2 a statement saying he fell in love with his beautiful bride the day they met and now today they must begin funeral arrangements, saying their family and thousands of students are crushed by her death.
“She was just the sweetest girl,” neighbor Lisa Raccuglia said. “A lot of people loved her. Her students loved her.
“My son actually had Ms. Willamson for fifth grade. So it’s touched everybody, and it’s horrible and hard to wrap your head around it, as a parent. Still struggling,” said parent Shelly Rothstein.
Sources say the bus driver missed an exit on I-80 while on the way to Waterloo Village in Stanhope and tried to correct the mistake with an illegal U-turn across the center median, an area meant for authorized vehicles only.
“My initial reaction, as someone with a child on that school bus, was anger,” parent Stacey Bender said.
The dump truck, belonging to Mendez Trucking out of Belleville, also had extensive damage. All the company would say is the driver is about 30 years old and is experienced. He was also hurt.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, the hashtag #ParamusStrong was trending on social media Friday.
“That’s what people do best – support each other. What else can you do? It’s tragedy, so, stick together, best we can do,” said parent Robert Kessler.
Meanwhile, many students are still anxious to hear how their friends are doing in the hospital. As of Friday morning, at least one student remained in a medically-induced coma.
Gov. Phil Murphy ordered flags to be flown at half staff in honor of the victims Monday. A memorial service will be held Sunday night at Our Lady of Visitation in Paramus.