SCHOHARIE — Two days after 20 people were killed on Oct. 6, 2018 when a limousine crashed into a ravine near the Apple Barrel Country Store, a man, moved by the tragedy, deposited a hand-carved wooden sculpture of a deer where the people were killed.
In the months since the deadly crash, people have written messages onto the deer sculpture, which is about four-feet tall and 10-feet long. A seven-foot-tall white cross was erected near it where the stretch limo had been, and numerous pictures, messages, keepsakes and other items have been placed at the location, as people have sought ways to mourn and memorialize the 20 people killed.
Jessica Loden Kirby, whose parents own the Apple Barrel Country Store, is the president of the Reflections Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit created to raise money for a permanent memorial at the site of the crash. The organization, which includes family members of the victims, has raised $50,000 towards its $250,000 goal. The group plans to have a private opening of the memorial for family members of the victims on Oct. 5. The memorial will be opened for the general public on Oct. 6.
However, before the permanent memorial could be built, something had to be done with the makeshift memorial items placed at the location.
"It's been difficult to try to figure out what to do with it, because, obviously, we want to preserve it somehow," Kirby said.
Kirby said she contacted a friend of hers who works at the New York State Museum in Albany. She said she had been impressed with the museum's 9-11 exhibit and thought the museum could do something with the deer sculpture and the white cross.
"My friend presented the idea to the museum's Collections Committee, and they agreed that yes they would take the deer sculpture and the large cross. There were two other crosses that were erected for specific people, but they decided they couldn't ethically take those, so the families took those back," she said.
Kirby said the New York State Museum sent a team to collect the deer sculpture, large white cross and most of the smaller memorial items on Tuesday. She said the team took pictures to record exactly how items had been laid out at the makeshift memorial, and will recreate the same arrangement when the museum starts its Schoharie Crash exhibit.
"They also are going to catalog all of the written messages on the pieces. That's going to be a huge undertaking for the museum. Some of them were written with sharpie markers, and even though those are permanent, they don't last forever, so they wanted to make sure every message written on the deer was cataloged," Kirby said.
Construction has started on the permanent memorial for the crash victims. Its design was unveiled in June during a ceremony at Amsterdam's Riverlink Park. Many of the victims of the crash were from the city of Amsterdam.
Kirby said one design element has changed since the original plan was presented in Amsterdam: the stone will now be in the foreground of the memorial and the tree will be behind it.
The memorial will feature a cement arch-shaped pathway on the ground, meant to symbolize the Iroquois' concept of the Skydome. A memorial stone with the names of the victims, and 20 cement circles, 19 of which will feature imprints of shoes worn by the passengers of the limo and the two bystanders killed in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store, will be placed in the pathway. The cement circles will include the names of the 17 passengers and the two bystanders. One cement circle will be left without an imprint to honor the vehicle's driver and all of the other people affected by the crash.
These are the names, ages and residences of the people killed in the crash: Axel J. Steenburg, 29, of Amsterdam; Richard M. Steenburg, 34, of Johnstown; Amy L. Steenburg, 29, of Amsterdam; Allison King, 31, of Ballston Spa; Mary E. Dyson, 33, of Watertown; Robert J. Dyson, 34, of Watertown; Abigail M. Jackson, 34, of Amsterdam; Matthew W. Coons, 27, of Johnstown; Savannah D. Bursese, 24, of Johnstown; Patrick K. Cushing, 31, of Halfmoon; Amanda D. Halse, 26, of Halfmoon; Erin R. McGowan, 34, of Amsterdam; Shane T. McGowan, 30, of Amsterdam; Amanda Rivenberg, 29, of Colonie; Adam G. Jackson, 34, of Amsterdam; Rachael K. Cavosie, 30, of Waterford; Michael C. Ukaj, 33, of Johnstown; Scott T. Lisinicchia, 53, of Lake George; Brian Hough, 46, of Moravia, Cayuga County and James Schnurr, 70, of Kerhonkson, Ulster County.
Kirby said the long-term plan for the memorial stone will be to convert it into a fountain. She said the memorial will be built before Oct. 5.
She said it's hard to estimate the exact cost of the construction because a lot of the labor and materials were donated. She said the foundation needs additional money to pay for the perpetual upkeep of the memorial after it's built.
Donations to the memorial can be mailed to the Reflections Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 488, Schoharie, NY, 12157. There is also a website and a Facebook page. Reflections Memorial T-shirts are available for sale at the Apple Barrel Country Store with all of the proceeds going to the memorial.