Town Mourns 11 Victims Of Fire Young Friends Died In Their Sleep On Weekend Outing To Mountains
They headed north to the wild beauty of a cabin in the mountains, 11 young people, all friends looking forward to a weekend of cards, cooking and laughter.
By daybreak Sunday, all of them were dead, caught in their beds by a swift fire.
Little remained Monday of the two-story cabin on Madisonburg Mountain except a tin roof, bent in the middle and draped like a tent over the stubs of charred supports.
The cause of the blaze is under investigation.
The victims were in their late teens and early 20s, and all were from Herndon, a close-knit rural town in central Pennsylvania. Some were going to Line Mountain High School; the rest had graduated and were attending college or working.
The reaction in their hometown - and the high school of 514 students - was grief and disbelief.
Veterans of another tragedy - the explosion of Paris-bound TWA Flight 800 off New York’s Long Island in 1996 - came to help console them. Of the 230 people killed in that disaster, 21 were from Montoursville, 35 miles from Herndon. Most of them were members of the high school French Club.
Classes were suspended Monday at Line Mountain High so students could talk about the fire and the victims. Many spoke to members of the same county crisis team that had offered consolation to Montoursville residents two years ago.
On their way home, students wore memorial lapel ribbons in the school’s colors, blue and gold, and left banners in the auditorium. “We will miss you guys. Hope you have a good trip,” read one.
“It’s going to take an entire village to soothe the soul of our entire community here today,” Principal Alexander Menio Jr. said.
Karen Wiest, mother of two of the victims, 20-year-old David and 17-year-old Toby, said: “The community is very strong and the people will pull together. They will get through this.”
Officials had not released a list of the victims by Monday afternoon. The only word of identifications came from relatives.
The 11 friends had arrived on the mountain Friday night and were planning to go home Sunday, said John Wehry, uncle of three victims.
Police said a passer-by saw lights in the windows and nothing unusual at 3:10 a.m. Sunday. But when officers arrived at 5:20 a.m., the cabin was engulfed in flames.
All of the victims apparently were overcome by smoke and died in bed without trying to escape. There was no evidence of an explosion or that the victims had been drinking.
The oak and pine cabin, about 40 miles northwest of Herndon and 140 miles northwest of Philadelphia, had been in Wehry’s family almost 50 years.
“They were all friends, that bunch,” he told the Centre Daily Times. “They loved to cook. They always were trying to make their favorite recipes and brag about it.”
The three Wehrys who died were siblings: 18-year-old Amanda, a Line High senior; Toni, a college student, whose age wasn’t available; and 23-year-old brother Tyrone, who worked in Harrisburg, Pa.
“Camping was one of those things they all enjoyed and they had gone to the cabin before,” said their stepgrandmother, Arlene Wehry. “They were a blessing to be around.”