Los Angeles hosts mourn Chinese students who never arrived
Los Angeles host community holds vigil for two Chinese teenagers killed in Asiana plane crash
About 400 mourners filled a Los Angeles church auditorium, praying and paying tribute to two Chinese teenagers they had never met.
Two white wreaths adorned a platform at West Valley Christian Church, carrying the names of the girls, Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia , who died in the Asiana Airlines plane crash in San Francisco last Saturday. Pictures of the two, close friends who attended the same high school, were shown on big screens. A red wreath, symbolising China, read: "Our Love."
The sweet, sad sounds of Amazing Grace, sung in Putonghua by 10 Chinese members of a nearby church, drifted over the assembly, held 50 kilometres northwest of Los Angeles.
"In the blink of an eye, everything changes," church chairman Eliu Elisara said, his voice cracking. "We do what we always do. We pray." Americans identified with the Chinese parents who were striving to give their children opportunities, he said.
The girls were members of a group of 35 Chinese students scheduled to begin a three-week summer camp to be held on the premises of West Valley Christian, which houses both a church and a school. They were the only fatalities among 307 passengers and crew on Asiana Flight 214. One may have been killed by a rescue vehicle, said Mindy Talmadge, a San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman.
The girls attended the same high school in Zhejiang province. Wang was an outgoing student leader who, authorities said, may have been run over during the rescue. Ye was an outstanding student who played the piano and competed in aerobics.
"The more we find out about these two girls, the more we feel like they lived down the street," Elisara said. "I never even met them but I feel like they were two of our own."
The church rented its facilities to groups such as the one the girls belonged to, school administrator Derek Swales said. This group hired teachers for the planned summer camp and selected families to stay with, he said.
After the plane crash, the group decided to cancel the summer session, Swales said. Members of the church and school community wanted to demonstrate their sorrow and offer support for the Chinese families, according to Swales. Empty classroom chairs represented the missing students on Thursday.
"I was going to greet them when they came in," said Tuesday Bowen, 14, who just finished eighth grade at West Valley Christian School. "My mum told me about the plane crash."
The purpose of the trip was to "broaden students' views of life, let them personally experience a different culture, customs and habits, and to learn authentic American spoken English", according to a statement from the Chinese delegation.
The students were to stay with host families.
Meanwhile, San Francisco police last night confirmed that one of the teenagers was struck by a fire truck, although it is not clear whether that killed her.
Coroner's office officials are still trying to determine the girl's cause of death.
Police spokesman Officer Gordon Shyy said the girl was on the ground and covered in foam that had been sprayed by fire crews.