ROSELAWN | Beyond the 68 who plummeted to their deaths when a commuter flight flew through freezing rain and crashed into a Newton County soybean field on Halloween in 1994, the lives of their families left behind were altered forever.
"Early on after the crash, I thought there would be a point when I'd feel I was healed ... Surely, these feelings of loss would come to an end," said Terri Severin, who lost her sister, Patty Henry, and nephew, Patrick Henry, in the wreckage.
She and her sister shared the same birthday, one year apart.
"I've learned there is a moving forward and acceptance, but there is no closure," the suburban Chicago resident said.
This year marks the 18th year families and friends of those who perished in the Halloween crash of American Eagle Flight 4184 have gathered at the roadside memorial to remember those lost.
There will be no formal service as in the past. An informal remembrance by the families will be observed instead, Severin said.
Severin will travel with Pat Sheriden-Hansen, who lost her brother, Frank Sheridan, in the crash. The duo plans to join others who make the trip to the site for coffee and talk afterward.
The bond forged among the families has crossed the lines of age and culture for what Severin calls her extended family.
"There will always be a particular understanding of what we experienced and the challenges we faced. Being heard and understood has helped with the healing. It's a special connection," Severin said.
Another positive drawn from the crash is the passage of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act, for which the Families of 4184 lobbied.
"We have moved from raw emotion to advocacy and education. We help others," Severin said.
The flight from Indianapolis was in a holding pattern waiting to land at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. The ATR-72 turboprop encountered freezing rain as it circled, causing ice to build up on the wings, which eventually downed the plane.
The roadside memorial — 68 white crosses jutting upward from the farm ground — is a stark reminder of what happened there.
"The site is always open and welcome for visitors to pay their respects," Severin said.
Throughout the years, members of the Roselawn community and beyond have been supportive emotionally and practically.
Severin said she and the other 4184 families are especially grateful to Pastor Kathy Hostetter and the Roselawn United Methodist Church as well as Tom Pope, Mike Guerrero and his children, Spencer and Nate. They honored the 4184 families, she said, by annually maintaining the roadside memorial and coordinating the service.
While Jen Stansberry Miller, who lost her brother, Brad Stansberry, in the crash, will not be there Wednesday, she is one of the coordinating members of the group. She, Severin and others are considering options that would make the roadside memorial less maintenance intensive for the future.