As a tall, white memorial candle was lighted yesterday in the auditorium of Fort Meade Senior High School, Alan Cole, bearing cuts beneath his eyes and bruises on his arms, dropped his head to his lap and sobbed uncontrollably. His friends gathered around him in a large circle, embracing him and each other.
Cole was driving Tuesday night when his compact pickup truck crashed into a tree and overturned on Patuxent Road in Anne Arundel County, killing eight teen-agers and seriously injuring three others, all of whom were passengers.
Cole was one of about 500 schoolmates and relatives of the dead teenagers who gathered yesterday at the school to hear their young friends eulogized as "flowers cut down early" and to be told, "There is a warning for all of us in this."
Across the aisle from Cole, a sober-faced Chief Petty Officer Melvin Morenz and his wife Jennifer, her eyes filling with tears, barely forced out the words to the hymn "O God, Our Help In Ages Past" with the rest of the crowd. Their son, Paul, who had hoped to follow his father's footsteps in the navy, was one of the accident victims.
Outside the school, the girlfriend of one the teen-agers still in the critical condition cried in the rain in her older sister's arms for more than 15 minutes. She never went inside to hear the service conducted by a rabbi and a priest.
"All of us adults, be we parents, teachers, counselors or friends, can think of something we have done, should have done or have done poorly, that may have had a small infulence in preventing this tragedy.
"This is not a time to fix blame on ourselves or on others. Let us resolve to try harder in the future," said Asistant Principal Edward J. Byne, as soft sobs could be heard from every part of the room.
Before him, stood eight empty chairs - symbols of the arrangements of red and white flowers.
The accident occured around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday when Cole and the 11 others, looking for something to do after they passed some time at the local bowling alley, decided to go to an impromptu party in the area of Patuxent River Park known as the Pond.
On a dark road that winds snake-like through a wooded area, Cole lost control of the truck on a steep, downhill curve. The truck went off the road, glanced off two trees, hit a third head-on and overturned, police said. Four of the youths were flung as far as 15 feet away.
Paul Morenz, 16; Robert Weaver, 18, his sister Tammera, 16; Denise Deaoun, 15, her brother Barry, 14; Cynthia Bray, 18; Marilyn Harris, 14; and Clark Jusaj, 14, all of Fort Meade, were dead.
Injured were Tina Neal, 15, Eugene Renaud, 15, and Kenneth Sassaman, 16, all of Fort Meade, and Cole, who lives in Baltimore.
Several of the parents of the victims did not attend yesterday's service. The two Deaoun youths were buried yesterday in Baltimore. The Weaver family had flown with the bodies of their dead children to St. Louis, Mo., for the burial Saturday.
The Morenzes had a family spokesman say that they were very touched by the tribute and that it was "well-handled" and "in good taste". The high school, where five of the youths were students, was closed yesterday in honor of the dead youths.
Other youngersters, some dressed casually in blue jeans, others wearing suits and dresses for the occasion, were willing to talk.
After the service, some of the teenagers talked about how careful they are going to be when they drive from now on and how they fear passing the spot where the eight youths were killed. Others talked of their dead and injured friends.
Robert Weaver was remembered as "just a nice guy who liked a good time." Paul Morenz used to like to listen to music so much he would walk around school with a portable tape recorder, his friends recalled.
Cynthia Bray was "a nice girl," who rarely spoke ill of others and who liked to joke around. "She'd always make faces. She liked to imitate teachers; you know, the way they look, the way they walk," said Tony Barnes, 16, a 10th-grader.
"You would see them walking around in the halls, then you see their name in the paper. It's so sad . . ." said 15-year-old Renaud Nicholson, breaking off in mid-sentence and shaking his head.
"Seems like everybody wants to get to know them now that they're gone," Barnes broke in.
"When I start driving, I don't want to drive past that part [where the accident occurred]," said Nicholson.
"My mother doesn't want me to drive with anybody anymore," said Robert Ward, 16, another 10th-grader. "She saids she'll take me anywhere I want to go."
Byrne noted in his eulogy that 11 Fort Meade high school students have been killed in accidents in the past year.
"Everybody says it seems like this school is jinxed," Barnes said. CAPTION: Picture 1, Sorrowful Fort Meade High School students console Alan Cole (hidden from view) at memorial service held for eight teen-agers killed in accident Tuesday. By James A. Parcell-The Washington Post; Picture 2, Chief Petty Officer Melvin Morenz turns yesterday to console his grieving wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Melody.; Picture 3, Friends comfort a woman outside auditorium after memorial for eight teen-agers. By James A. Parcell - The Washington Post