How Do You Cure a Broken Heart?

By April Witt
Sunday, May 29, 2005

It is the most beautiful spring afternoon. Sunshine glints off water in the harbor. Karen Schillings, 55, wears a light jacket in case it gets chilly. The Girl Scout leader from Homewood, Ill., is always prepared. But it has been mild all day, and Karen feels almost luxuriantly relaxed as she strolls the grounds of historic Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

Up ahead, Karen's youngest daughter walks hand in hand with her boyfriend. Corinne Schillings and Andrew Roccella, both 26, lean into each other laughing. They are so in love they are in their own little world, Karen thinks, pleased.

Corinne and Andrew have been in love for years. They've been in love since the year after they met as Purdue University juniors studying in Italy. They've been in love so long that one of Corinne's girlfriends teases that she has a mind to telephone Andrew and demand he pop the question. Corinne, cheerful and steady like Mom, always says she is certain Andrew will propose when he is ready -- and whenever that is will be just the right time.

It is Saturday, March 6, 2004.

At 3:23 p.m., a wind gauge atop a Howard County middle school -- 30 miles from the fort -- records 57 mph gusts. A fast-moving line of thunderstorms is sweeping across Maryland, heading for Baltimore.

The harbor is calm as the young lovers, who have brought their parents together for a day of sightseeing, wait on the Fort McHenry pier for a water taxi to take the three couples back across the water to Fells Point.

Sitting on a bench on the pier, Corinne shows off little treasures she's picked up at the fort gift shop: a book on the history of the early American stronghold that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner," and a commemorative brass Christmas ornament. Corinne is an accomplished young woman who speaks five languages, but she's still a little girl about her favorite holiday. Wherever she travels in the world she buys sentimental baubles to hang on the family Christmas tree.

It is beginning to look like rain. The sky darkens, and a cool breeze appears. Karen wishes the water taxi would hurry up and get there or they'll all get wet. She notices that Andrew isn't wearing a jacket, and worries he'll be cold. "Oh, these young kids, they never have their jackets on!" she thinks.

"You know how the mom in you comes out," Karen says months later, recounting that day in an interview.

Karen feels lucky when the Lady D, a 36-foot pontoon boat with a two-man crew, docks, boards its maximum 23 passengers and pulls away from the pier just ahead of the rain. Seconds later, the heavens open. Sightseers aboard the water taxi gasp and exclaim excitedly about the sheeting rain.

It is just before 4 p.m. -- about the time the National Weather Service issues a warning of possible thunderstorms in the area with gusting winds.

As the water taxi pulls farther from land, the wind picks up suddenly. The harbor is instantly choppy, and the small pontoon boat, just 12 feet across, begins to rock violently.

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