Herbert and Peggy Bell were making a change. For years the Virginia couple shared the perils and pressures of law enforcement as deputy sheriffs in Prince William County.
Former supervisors in the sheriffs department said the Bells left the department earlier this year and were planning to sell their home in Culpeper County and move to Florida. On Saturday they were on board ValuJet Flight 592 when the plane plummeted into the murky, muddy waters of the Florida Everglades.
They are two of the 109 people whose lives ended in the disaster. Each of the victims leaves behind a wider circle of loss as family and friends gather to share their grief.
Some ended up on the fatal flight by twists of fate. Hockey fan Andrew Nevil, 27, of Raleigh, N.C., had flown to Miami to watch the Philadelphia Flyers take on the Florida Panthers in the National Hockey League playoffs. Nevil, who had worked as a dormitory services coordinator at Eastern Kentucky University at Richmond, had moved in with his folks while looking for another job, said his sister Catherine Nevil, who lives some 30 miles from their parents' home. She last saw her brother on Tuesday, when "he helped hang a dog door at my house for me.
"He actually was planning to come home today," Catherine Nevil said, "but took an earlier flight to surprise my mom for Mother's Day."
Chance, too, brought some crew members aboard Flight 592. Flight attendant Jennifer Stearns, 21, took the flight as a favor to her friend, according to an account in the Dallas Morning News. So she asked her younger sister Jill, 19, to shop for a Mother's Day present for her and told her that she would try to be back in time to spend Sunday with their mother. "I picked up some nice lawn chairs," Jill Stearns said. All five crew members were based in Dallas.
Yesterday, Roger McNitt was going through his brother's records in the basement room he used as his office in Powder Springs, Ga., preparing for today's calls to businesses across the country to tell them that his brother's special skills would no longer be available.
"There wasn't anything he couldn't fix," he said of his brother, Neil, who had built a successful business maintaining and repairing the enormous machinery used in mining operations.
Neil McNitt, 42, and his family were returning home after a vacation cruise. Along with McNitt's wife, Judy, 34, the couple's three children -- Laura, 8, Lindsey, 6, and Clark, 5 -- were lost in the crash.
At least one of the victims was well known: San Diego Chargers running back Rodney Culver, who perished with his wife, Karen, in the crash. Culver had also played for the Indianapolis Colts and was a four-year letterman at Notre Dame.
"They don't come any better than Rodney," Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard told the Associated Press. "You spend 90 percent of your time dealing with problems, and maybe 1 percent of your time with guys like Rodney, who never give you any reason to worry about them.
"You almost take them for granted, then something like this happens. It's awful. I don't know what to think."
Herbert and Peggy Bell were among four people from the area who lost their lives in the crash. Also killed were Frances Brown, of Baltimore, and Roosevelt Tillman, of Lynchburg, Va.
Herbert Bell's work in Prince William was a second career. He joined the sheriff's department in the mid-1980s after retiring from the D.C. police department. Wilson C. Garrison, the former county sheriff under whom Bell had worked, said he believed Bell had finished 20 years on the D.C. force as a sergeant.
Garrison noted the peculiar turn of fate that after facing the hazards of law enforcement for 30 years Bell should die on his way back from looking for a retirement home.
"Such tragedy," Garrison said, describing both Bell and his wife as "very sincere deputies." Herbert Bell helped provide courtroom security, Garrison said. Peggy Bell joined the Prince William department a couple of years before her husband. Her assignments included courtroom security; once she was commended for foiling an attempted escape by a man who stood much taller than her 5 feet 4 inches.
Despite the derring-do, both were "real gentle and very concerned and professional people," said their former supervisor, Harvey Bland.
While a sheriff's deputy, Herbert Bell also was president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in the area. The Bells had three children, neighbors and associates said.
Some of the families of victims said yesterday that they were not happy with the information that they were able to get from ValuJet. Roger McNitt drove to the Atlanta airport to find out all that he could -- but when he called an older brother in St. Louis, he was surprised to find that the sibling was getting more information from watching CNN than the airline was giving out. "It was a joke," McNitt said. CAPTION: Robert Woodus, 23, above, a recent graduate of the University of Miami, where he was an offensive lineman with the Hurricanes football team, and Rodney Culver, left, a running back with the San Diego Chargers, were passengers aboard the downed ValuJet DC-9. CAPTION: ValuJet President Lewis Jordan cited the fact that "All of us are flying our family and friends on these airplanes" as a sign of confidence in the airline. CAPTION: Eleanor Emick comforts her husband, Bob, in Plymouth, Mich., the morning after their daughter, Donna Rennolds, and their granddaughter, Kim, were killed in the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades.