ROSELAWN | Three small children handed out red paper hearts, autumn leaves, and paper clips Saturday to about 60 people at the edge of a Newton County cornfield.
"Even though we never met them, we want to remember them," 9-year-old Jackie Calderon said of her grandfather and uncle as she read from a piece of paper. "We wish they were on Earth with us and not in heaven."
The girl's relatives were among 68 people who died when American Eagle Flight 4184 crashed 15 years ago Saturday in a farmer's field south of Roselawn. After a fight waged for years by the victims' families, the crash resulted in passage of a landmark aviation safety act by Congress.
"The paper clips bind things together," Calderon told the crowd after she and her brother, Ethan, 7, and their cousin, Sidney Calderon, 7, finished passing out the items. "Just like we are bounded together by our loved ones."
The memorial service takes place every year at the site along County Road 400 East, a narrow strip of asphalt running south out of the rural hamlet of Roselawn. The sky was clear and a brisk, cold wind rustled the cornstalks.
Family members came from as far away as Los Angeles to pay their respects and remember loved ones on Saturday.
The anniversaries that come every fifth year tend to bring out more family members, with attendees saying Saturday's crowd was the largest they remember. Victims' families greeted each other quietly as they arrived, glancing at the rows of white crosses arranged on the other side of the roadside ditch.
The crosses, the simple boulder bearing a memorial plaque, and the grass around them are meticulously maintained by local residents Michael Guerrero and his sons, Nathan and Spencer. Victims' families also come from far away to occasionally lend a hand.
"We come here not only to honor those who perished in the crash, but also to celebrate our extended family," said Terri Severin, sweeping her hand toward the crowd. Her sister and her sister's 4-year-old son died in the crash.
Flight 4184 went down on a rainy, cold Halloween. The commuter flight from Indianapolis was in a holding pattern waiting to land at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. The ATR-72 turboprop had encountered freezing rain as it circled, which caused ice to build up on the wings, dooming the plane.
The crash and the efforts of the victims' families helped spur passage of the federal Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996. It mandated new regulations in airline safety and response tactics and required airlines to provide crisis counseling and other assistance to the families of crash victims.
The memorial service Saturday was started by a local quartet of musicians strumming guitars and a mandolin at the edge of the road.
Pastor Kathie Hostetter, of the nearby Roselawn United Methodist Church, delivered an elegy praising both those who perished in the crash and the surviving families who fought so hard to keep others from suffering the same fate.
"We are not among those who shrink back and are lost ... because we have faith," she said quoting from the Book of Hebrews.
After the service, a dinner was served at the white frame Methodist Church for all the families.