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Thousands attend Amsterdam vigil honoring Schoharie limo tragedy victims

Thousands attend Amsterdam vigil honoring Schoharie limo tragedy victims

Amsterdam shows support for devastated families
Thousands attend Amsterdam vigil honoring Schoharie limo tragedy victims
Thousands turned out in Amsterdam for a candlelight vigil to honor those killed in Schoharie.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Schoharie Icon_0.jpg

AMSTERDAM -- The people of Amsterdam, thousands holding candles, united Monday night for a candlelight vigil on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Pedestrian Bridge to show support for the family and friends of the 20 people killed Saturday in the vehicle crash in Schoharie.

An estimated crowd of 2,500 people packed the bridge, which connects Amsterdam's north and south sides across the Mohawk River. 

The vigil began with prayers from the Rev. Kent McHeard. 

"Family members that are here, and loved ones, please know, as a community, our prayers are with you throughout this journey and throughout this time," he said.

Mayor Michael Villa spoke first among a lineup of public officials who gave speeches honoring the victims of the car crash, many of them from the city of Amsterdam.

"I wish I had the words ...," began the mayor before quoting writer Debbie McDaniel: "Sometimes, in this crazy, mixed up world, when our hearts are grieving and we’ve suffered devastating blows, when loss feels too deep, and the battle seems fierce, the most comforting words of all are just these two, 'Jesus wept', from John 11:35." 

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U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, wept as he spoke, talking both to the community and directly to the family members of people killed. Tonko pledged that he would do all that he could from his position in Congress to assist. 

Tonko had this to say to grieving families: "Look at this bridge, filled with people. The walkways filled with people. Family members know that your loved ones are loved by your community. We are crushed with you, we are crushed for you, [overcome] with sadness, grief, but know that we care. Know that we try to understand the pain you're facing, even though we can't understand the depth of that pain."

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Amsterdam native Tammy Smith was among the first community members to arrive on the bridge Monday night. She said that in the mid-1990s she was the softball coach for Amy Steenburg, one of four sisters killed, three with their husbands, in the horrific accident. 

"I knew all of the girls. Amy, being the youngest. She started on my softball team when she was seven years old. They were full of life, all of them, little daredevils on the ball field," she said interrupting her own tears with laughter. "Nothing stopped them, just beautiful, always full of smiles, always motivating each other. Nothing would come between those sisters." 

Nellie Bush, president of the Greater Amsterdam School District school board, and schools Superintendent Vicky Ramos spoke at the vigil. One of the victims of the crash, Abigail Jackson, who was killed with her three sisters, was an educator at Wilbur H. Lynch Literacy Academy. "I want to assure every single one of you that this board will do everything on behalf of the children, the students, the staff and the administration to help the families get through this awful, awful tragedy," Bush said. "Today, the weather was a perfect example of the cloud that has come over this community regarding this tragedy. Our hearts also go out to the first responders, let's not forget about them. This may be a small city, but we have a huge heart, just like that sign says, we are Amsterdam strong." 

Montgomery County District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell thanked the crowd "from the bottom on my heart" for coming out to support the families. He extended his condolences on behalf of the people of Montgomery County.

"None of us will ever forget the lives of those who have been lost," he said. 

Courtney Glorioso sang "Amazing Grace," joined at the end by many of the people on the crowded bridge before a moment of silence was held with candles raised in memorial to the dead.

Christopher Carpenter, who helped organize the vigil along with the Lynch Literacy Academy Parent Teacher Organization, handed out pens to family and close friends of the victims so they could write messages on a banner that would hung at the entrance to the bridge. 

Pastor Jenni Yeske, of the Fonda Reform Church, attended the vigil in memory of Matthew Coons, a member of her church killed in the accident. 

"He was just a wonderful, joyful man, who cared very much for his family and would do just about all he could for any friend or family member. He was helping to raise his two nieces," she said. 

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