Daily photo by John Godbey|
Lee High School teacher Bonnie Edmondson, a Falkville graduate, hugs one of her students, Ashley Terry.
Falkville grad, now Lee teacher, recalls tragic day
By Ronnie Thomas
HUNTSVILLE — “We are family,” sang the rhythm and blues group Sister Sledge. “I got all my sisters with me. We are family. Get up everybody and sing.”
Lee High School students changed the title line to read, “We are famiLee!” — a chant that Bonnie Edmondson first heard 24 years ago when she joined the faculty as a health teacher.
“I don’t think our ‘famiLee’ will be complete until the last kids return to school,” she said, Friday during a break after her 7 a.m. class.
She referred to students injured Nov. 20 when their bus crashed and tumbled over a concrete railing on Interstate 565, dropping 30 feet below onto Church Street. She knows their return will be another step in the famiLee’s healing as they mourn four “sisters” who aren’t returning.
Nicole Sharika Ford, 19, a senior, and sophomore Christine Collier, 16, died at the scene. Tanesha Estella Hill, 17, and Crystalle Renee McCrary, 17, both seniors, died later at a hospital. Edmondson had taught all but Christine, a sophomore.
Thanksgiving week began as a respite for Edmondson, a tradition she started several years ago when she attended her class reunion at Berea College.
No holiday rest
For the past 12 years, she has worked part time as a paramedic for HEMSI. There would be no rest during this 2006 holiday. The famiLee needed her.
Edmondson, a 1976 Falkville High School graduate, was at home that cold Monday morning when she flipped on the television about 10:15 a.m. and heard about a bus accident.
“I knew that our kids leave Lee to go to tech school at 10,” she said. “One of them was actually coming out of my class. I knew that was a route they would have taken.”
As she approached HEMSI Station 2, only 15 minutes from home, her sister, Sue Norton, called from 3M in Decatur and told her the wreck involved a Lee High bus.
From the station, Zach Albright, an emergency medical technician, and Edmondson arrived at the crash site within minutes.
“The first glimpse at the bus was devastating,” she said. “You knew that it was bad. But you couldn’t define bad at that point,” she said.
She tried to check her emotions as she knelt beside Yolanda Moore, a junior, already on a backboard, a collar on her neck.
“I had had her in class, but I couldn’t remember her name,” Edmondson said. “Part of that is being so focused on trying to make sure you’re taking care of the person and not worrying about who it is. But I was her teacher, too.”
Edmondson said she also knew the student that was placed in her truck, senior Kyle Rose, “and I still had to ask him his name. He was answering my questions ‘yes’ and ‘no’, but I could tell he was absolutely scared to death and having trouble breathing. We took him to Huntsville East for Women and Children. It turned out his ribs and lungs were bruised.”
She said en route “we heard that ‘there are two who are not transported.’ We knew then we had lost them.”
Edmondson said she was “kind of chopping at the bit” as she left Huntsville East. She knew that HEMSI would send her and Albright wherever needed.
Within 10 minutes, they were on their way to Hazel Green to assist an elderly woman who had fallen and hit her head on the corner of concrete steps.
But before they left, they knew that Nicole and Christine were the students who had died.
“We took the woman to Crestwood Medical Center because Huntsville Main was so busy,” Edmondson said. “I met another of my former students, Biliesha Belvitt, a junior, who nurses were rolling down the hallway on a gurney from X-ray. She assured me she was all right.”
She learned about Tanesha’s death later in the day during a stress debriefing at the West Huntsville Police Precinct.
Edmondson spent most of the next day, Tuesday, at the school talking to the students. About noon, they heard that Huntsville Chief of Police Rex Reynolds had announced during a press conference that Crystalle had died.
“They needed us, and we needed them. Because they’d be getting out for Thanksgiving the next day, a lot of people questioned why we had school at all,” Edmondson said. “The kids that were here were here for a reason.”
Edmondson also came to the school Wednesday, spending more time with the students. That Friday, she attended Nicole’s funeral, Tanesha’s and Christine’s on Sunday and Crystalle’son Monday.
She recalled instances involving two of the deceased that she says she will never forget.
“Crystalle was in one of my classes two years ago and also had clothing in a home economics class across the hall,” she said. “A student rushed in and said, ‘Miss Edmondson, you need to come. Crystal sewed her finger.’ I walked over and there sat Crystal at a sewing machine, cool and calm, her finger locked under the needle. I said, ‘Girl, how on earth did you do this?’ She just looked at me and said, ‘Can you get me out of this or not?’ ”
Edmondson said she maneuvered Crystal’s finger enough to get the needle out of the machine.
“The needle went clean through, the thread hanging out the other side,” she said. “Her mom picked her up and took her to the emergency room. Crystal was in class the next day with her finger bandaged up.”
She remembers Nicole as “a unique individual, a very mature person with a disability. I did not know her before the father of her child shot her in the face, causing brain damage. She was in my class a couple of years ago. I’d see her in the hall and she’d say, ‘Miss E, can I borrow’ such and such. She was always wanting to borrow something.”
Edmondson said that on this particular day, Nicole had a new photo of her and her son.
“She wanted to use my scanner and printer to make copies. I said, ‘Nicole, I don’t have enough ink to print an 8 by 1`0 like that. She ran down the hall to ask someone else,” Edmondson said.
“That was the photo the media used after her death.”
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