MONTOURSVILLE -- A small close-knit community became a media playground yesterday as press from all over the country descended upon Montoursville High School.
But the Montoursville Warriors showed just how strong they are.
"What do they think, we're having a party here?" said one Montoursville High School student.
"How am I supposed to act?" he asked.
"Like we lost some friends," answered Luiz Engle, a Montoursville High School graduate and friend of Flight 800 victims.
With flags flying at half mast and ribbons adorning trees, high school students and friends of the 21 passengers -- 16 students and five adult chaperones -- from Montoursville gathered together to grieve and give each other support. Most wore blue and gold ribbons made by mothers of students in the band association.
About 15 students sat with tearful eyes and solemn faces on the street corner opposite the school, trying to avoid the entourage of cameras and reporters. One student had been there since 10 a.m. and said he had not talked to his family all day.
"The cameras are annoying," another student said. "We'd be better off if everyone would just leave. We don't need all these people here. We want to kick their asses."
Some reporters desperately trying to obtain the names of the French Club members who were on Flight 800 offered up to $300 for a copy of the students' yearbook.
And when Andrea Weitlich, a Montoursville High School graduate, approached the school clutching a letter dated June 21 from her best friend who was on the flight, the press pack bombarded her as well.
Weitlich, who had been praying with friends earlier, said she was in shock.
"I just found out one of my best friends died," she said. Weitlich was so numb she said she could not even cry.
Patricia Weigle, a counselor from Susquehanna Health Systems, said the students' reactions were expected.
"They're not believing that this is real," Weigle said. "It's starting to penetrate on some avenues and then it goes back to numbing."
And she said the media attention was causing an inner struggle for the students.
"They are struggling within themselves. They want to be a part of all of this, and share their stories. But on the other hand, they are afraid they will betray their friends," Weigle said.
The media made it even more difficult for the grieving students to open up to counselors and pastors. But one professional that seemed to bring out the emotions of the numb students was Star, a black Labrador and German Shepherd mix. She is a registered service dog for the Behavioral Health Center of Susquehanna Health Systems.
"When I first enter the building, I'm not going to approach (the students)," Weigle said. "We let Star loose and they pet her and love her. At some point they open up to us."
But students spent most of the day walking around the high school, talking, hugging, crying with friends and spending time with their families. Many high school students entered the building clutching a parent's hand for support and assurance.
The town of Montoursville has a population of about 5,000, with the school district encompassing about seven other townships. Eight hundred of the 2,500 school-aged children in the district attend the high school.
Most students and school administrators outside the school said they knew the crash victims.
David Black, Montoursville School District Superintendent, said the students were very motivated academically and involved in other activities.
Of the three seniors on the trip, School Board President Richard Gray said one boy may have been bound for Penn State.
"I think his dad is a Penn State graduate," he said.
And Pastor Finn of the Community Baptist Church said the closeness of the community would be apparent at the vigil held from 8 to 9 p.m. last night.
During the vigil, the 1,600-seat gymnasium was packed with a standing-room-only crowd. As friends began to see each other, they hugged and cried together. The brother of one crash victim was welcomed to the vigil by a lineup of friends ready to lend a shoulder to cry on. Five girls walked arm-in-arm and with tears in their eyes, clutching each other tightly throughout the ceremony. The high school cheerleaders, dressed in uniform, passed around pictures of friends who were on the flight.
Gov. Tom Ridge and his wife attended, wishing that the residents, "Be well." Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok was also in attendance.
And throughout the vigil, local pastors shared inspiring scriptures with the residents, each followed by a long silence.
"We're here as a community to share one another's pain, to share the pain of tragedy as well as the tragedy of pain," one pastor said.
"Twenty-four hours ago the sun went down. It did so in far greater ways for some in this township," said another pastor. "The last 24 hours, if there is one word that marked this township, it is comfort."