Crash of Flight 800

8:45 pm Crime Stories

A DAUGHTER OF MONTOURSVILLE COMES HOME
T-SHIRT, SNEAKERS AND `JANE EYRE’
OFFERED ON THE ALTAR HELP TELL THE STORY
OF A VIBRANT LIFE ENDED TOO SOONThursday, July 25, 1996

Page: 1A
By DAWN SHURMAITIS; Times Leader Staff Writer

MONTOURSVILLE — On the altar of the Catholic church, next to the water and
wine, lay a frayed pair of sneakers, a faded black T-shirt and a paperback
so often read that its cover was gone.

The stuff of life. Monica Cox’s life.

During her funeral Wednesday, Monica’s family brought their own version of
“offerings” to the altar. More than the eloquent sermon, or the tearful
eulogies, the green sneakers, Grateful Dead shirt and copy of “Jane Eyre”
told Monica’s story best.

The 16-year-old girl was an athlete, a poet and a music lover. The
much-loved daughter of Cindy and Rob Cox.

Monica Cox was also a “first.” A sad first.

Hers was the first body from the TWA Flight 800 tragedy to return to
Montoursville, which lost 16 high school French club students on July 17
when the Paris-bound plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island.

The students, 13 girls and three boys, ranged from soon-to-be sophomores to
recent high school graduates.

When the Rev. Stephen McGough, a Wilkes-Barre native, mentioned the many
classmates gathered in Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, the priest’s
voice broke.

“I have watched you hold onto each other. You know a pain we don’t,”
McGough said. “There are no answers we can provide you this morning. It
prompts us to call to God, whose heart was the first to break when Flight
800 fell from the sky.”

Monica, he told the mourners gathered in a room bathed by colors from
stained glass, is now an angel.

“Smile at her. Laugh with her. Hear her say, `You’ve got to love me.’ ”

Another room stocked with mementos

Off the church chapel, in another room filled with flowers, a single table
displayed more precious mementos of a too-short life.

A Popsicle stick plaque for “My favorite daddy.” A story written in a
child’s hand that begins, “My mother is special to me because she always
helps me when I’m hurt.”

A softball mitt. Bowling trophies. A single baby shoe. A framed needlepoint
inscribed “Monica Eileen Cox. Dec. 28, 1979. 7 lbs. 13 oz. Williamsport,
Pa.”

And, there were photos.

A chubby-cheeked baby waving from her highchair.

Looking sleepy on Christmas morning, unwrapping gifts in her flannel robe.

Dressed all in white as a princess for Halloween. Holding the hand of her
baby brother Brian.

And then, in a photo album, a picture of promise — Monica as a
freckle-faced teen with wide brown eyes and her mother’s thick dark hair.

The last picture — with a giggling girlfriend, sticking her tongue out at
the camera — shows the Monica her friends say they will remember best.

The sometimes silly, most times serious girl. The feminist who liked mixing
skirts with clunky boots. The one who held onto her stuffed gorilla and
oft-hugged Goofy while listening to all-girl punk bands.

A classmate pointed out a pen-and-ink portrait Monica drew last year during
school.

“She was so proud of it,” said Tiffany Barton, who smiled even as she wiped
away tears. “The day she finished it, she carried it with her all day.”

Another father looks for closure

Cindy and Rob Cox walked tall into the church behind the oak box that
carried their daughter’s body. Their 5-year-old son Brian walked between
them, holding tight to their hands.

The sweet aroma of red roses, yellow mums and pink carnations blended with
the pungent scent of incense. Recalling Monica’s baptism, the priest
sprinkled water on the white cloth draped over the casket.

“My brothers and sisters. All over this town of Montoursville there is a
great deal of sadness and grief,” McGough began. “Monica’s days were so
short. May she live radiant and young in your kingdom.”

A soloist in the balcony began to sing “Do not be afraid. I am with you” as
Monica’s aunts read from Scripture.

Midway through the Mass, Rob Cox walked to the podium. He chose that moment
to reach out to the others in his community who suffered so much.

“I want to offer our support to all the other families who also lost a
child,” he said before his soft voice choked with grief.

“I’m sure Monica will help them get where they need to go.”

Inside the church, another father listened intently to Cox’s words.

Jeff Bohlin learned Tuesday night at 7:23 p.m. that his daughter, Michelle,
was also coming home. Her body was finally identified.

“That makes it easier,” he said later, outside the church. “Hopefully,
there will be some closure.”

Jeff Bohlin was joined by his daughter, Erika, who carried pictures of
15-year-old Michelle laughing during a band trip to Toronto.

“She just made varsity cheerleader,” said Erika, 17, as she gathered with
friends after the Mass.

“Now, I’m an only child.”

Sitting by himself in a red car, listening to the band Primus, was Monica’s
boyfriend. He didn’t want to talk, preferring to say his piece with the
words he spray-painted on the windows of his Ford.

“We will miss you forever, Monica. 4 ever. Sean.”

Signs of grief remain everywhere

Everywhere in Montoursville Wednesday, signs of grief remained: blue and
yellow ribbons, gravediggers opening the earth, flags flying at half-staff.

Everywhere, there were signs of life carrying on: The movie “Phenomenon”
advertised at the Lycoming Mall, the summer sale at the hardware store, the
kids hanging out at the local pool.

Outside the church, McGough told the media the young parents are deriving
great comfort from the outpouring of calls, notes, flowers and just plain
pats on the back from friends and strangers.

“But after the initial wave of concern is gone, the parents will have to
look at that empty bed, that empty room, that empty place at the table,”
McGough said. “That’s when the second wave of grief will hit.”

Her parents plan to have Monica cremated. The priest explained it this way:
“I suspect so the ashes will always be with them.”

AP PHOTO

Mementos are displayed in Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church during
Wednesday’s funeral for Monica Cox, a 16-year-old teen who was the first
victim of TWA Flight 800 from Montoursville to be brought home.

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