ROSELAWN | In a cold, driving rain reminiscent of 20 years earlier, about 150 family members and friends of the passengers and crew of American Eagle Flight 4184 gathered Friday to commemorate the lives lost when the airplane crashed into a farm field, killing all 68 aboard.
The 20th anniversary brought the dedication of a new memorial — a brick wall including the names of all victims of the crash.
The Rev. Kathie Hostetter, of Roselawn United Methodist Church, led the dedication.
“Look down upon our sorrowing hearts today and be gracious to us,” she prayed, as attendees gathered closely.
Hostetter meditated on the changing of seasons. “To everything there is a season…” she read from Ecclesiastes.
The figurative passage had literal weight for the gathering, huddled tightly against the weather.
“The journey of all those souls was cut short by the changing season,” Hostetter said. Their families and friends, as well as the emergency workers responding, “plunged into a long dark season.”
But she encouraged the gathering to “celebrate their lives and love” while dedicating the monument.
“We accept as a sacred trust the responsibility to guard and honor the memory of all those on this wall,” she said. “May it signify our grief but also our gratitude for the lives of all on it.”
Flight 4184’s loved ones laid flowers at the wall; they photographed the bricks engraved with the names of their loved ones; they knelt and prayed.
“We’ve got a long-lasting tribute to our loved ones now,” said Terri Severin, whose sister and nephew were on Flight 4184. She called the memorial a tangible testament to the many changes in aircraft safety, and to the way officials address airplane crashes, that were inspired by Flight 4184.
Jennifer Stansberry Miller, with Severin a leader in the families’ efforts for reform and commemoration over the years, said the day’s activities touched emotions from “all parts of the spectrum.”
“The sense of community was evident,” she said of the gathering in extreme conditions. “I’m honored to be a part of this.”
The memorial wall “is worth every ounce of energy and effort to make it happen,” she said.
The new memorial, constructed by DeMotte mason Larry Albanese and his son Nate, is about 3 feet high and 15 feet long, with a boulder in the center, and with 68 bricks engraved with the passengers' and crew members' names embedded in the wall.
Larry Albanese was at Friday’s ceremony. He said building the wall was an emotional experience.
“It was an honor to build it,” he said. “I feel like I’m part of it.”
The Flight 4184 group stayed at the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville, where they had held a forum Thursday evening on the legacies of the flight.
The two days of activities drew a larger group than most years. Among the regular attendees of the annual commemorations was Gina Gagliano, sister of Flight 4184 co-pilot Jeffrey Gagliano.
“It feels good to get everyone together,” she said during a pre-ceremony gathering at the Lincoln Township Volunteer Fire Department. “It’s nice to see some people who haven’t been here before.”
The group spent Friday evening after the ceremony together at a private dinner, before returning to homes as far as California, Texas and Mexico.