For hundreds of persons who gathered at the Oxon Hill Lutheran Church for Pamela Diane Bellani's funeral, it seemed appropriate that the bright sunshine and warm temperatures of Monday and Tuesday had given way yesterday to gray skies and a slight chill.
The mourners -- Bellani's classmates, teachers, friends, relatives and Prince George's County volunteer firefighters -- had questions but few answers about the young woman's death last weekend, a sudden end to the life of a popular 18-year-old high school senior.
Bellani, a probationary member of the Clinton Fire Company, was found unconscious in her car outside the firehouse last Saturday night and was pronounced dead at Southern Maryland Hospital Center early Sunday morning. Prince George's police and the Clinton fire chief said Bellani apparently had choked on her own vomit after consuming a large amount of alcohol that, it was later learned, had been purchased by another volunteer.
"Pamela was a gifted and talented person," said Tina Abdul-malik, one of about 75 Central High School seniors who attended the funeral. "She was well liked. Everyone will miss her. It's so hard to understand."
The Rev. Darvin A. Herman, pastor at the church where yesterday's service was held, told the mourners:"It is not so easy when an 18-year-old woman who had so much to live for and who seemingly enjoyed it so much dies. What a tragedy, what a disastrous event."
Bellani, who lived with her mother and stepfather at 6812 Woodland Rd. in Morningside, was a senior at Central High School in Capitol Heights. She was active in the Thespian Society and headed the school's Broadcast Club.
Many of Bellani's classmates wept quietly during the 40-minute service, while the contingent of volunteer firefighters sat stoically. Outside the church at the end of the service, grief overcame many of the students, whose quiet tears turned to wailing as they sought comfort in each others' arms.
"They feel it very personally," said Dorothy Stubbs, Central High's principal. "Those who knew Pamela felt very close to her, and they shared that feeling whether they were at the funeral or not."
Clinton Fire Chief Aubrey Schultz said that, according to explanations given by four volunteer firefighters, Bellani drank a fifth of whiskey before she passed out. Such behavior was totally uncharacteristic of a young woman who seldom drank at all, family and friends said.
Schultz suspended the four volunteers on Monday after one of the volunteers changed his story and acknowledged that the alcohol Bellani drank had been bought by a volunteer firefighter and not by Bellani.