Mother of victim, community react to 25th anniversary of deadly Flight 800 crash

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MONTOURSVILLE, LYCOMING COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — This Saturday, a central Pennsylvania community will observe the 25th anniversary of a tragedy that many say forever changed that community.

TWA Flight 800 exploded as it left New York bound for Paris. 230 people were killed, including 16 students and five chaperones from Montoursville High School. The group was part of the school’s French Club headed to Paris.

Many people say Montoursville lost its innocence that day and the people who were lost in that crash remain alive in the hearts of many in this community.

It was a busy day at The Barber Shop on Broad Street in downtown Montoursville. A place where people come to get a trim and talk about the news of the day. And on this day, the crash of TWA Flight 800 was on their minds.

“So, you know, it’s hard to think about it. Neighbors that were killed in that crash. There were teachers and I have customers that have people that passed away. It’s just emotional it’s just an emotional time,” The Barber Shop owner Michele Cioffi said.

Flight 800 exploded just 12 seconds after taking off from JFK Airport in New York on the evening of July 17, 1996. Montoursville honors those lost from this community in many ways, including with a monument near the high school. The community is still healing.

“I mean I think people got closer together you know look out for each other more. It’s a tight-knit community anyway just brought everyone closer together,“ Cioffi said.

Jenn Kennedy works at the thrift store in town. She was in elementary school when the flight went down.

“I think it grew us closer as a community, yeah more togetherness. Very close knit,” Kennedy said.

Eyewitness News also talked with the mother of a student who died in the crash of Flight 800. She believes her daughter had a premonition about the crash.

“I would just say take it one day at a time because you never know when it’s the last day. I really learned to just live in the moment,” Michelle Jaz said.

And that is the lesson that Jaz says she learned from the explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800. Her 15-year-old daughter Larissa Uzupis perished in the crash. She along with 15 classmates and five adult chaperones.

Many were members of the school’s French Club. They were headed to Paris when the thinkable became reality.

“I first heard about it, I was shopping for a class reunion and came home, turned on TV, saw there was an explosion in New York,” Jaz said.

She learned her daughter Larissa was gone. She believes Larissa had a premonition about the crash.

“About two months before, maybe six weeks before the flight, we were just talking and somehow got on a discussion about death and she told me she didn’t want to live to be 40. She thought that was pretty old and she said when she dies she wants to be in the news and in a big way. She got her wish. She must have known,” Jaz said.

Among her daughter’s belongings that were recovered from the crash site was the key to her suitcase. She wears a gold replica of the key around her neck everyday. She often wonders about the life her daughter never lived.

“The thing that goes through my mind most is what she would have done. I know she would have done something really successful and how it changed our whole family. It changed my other children. But we keep her alive, we talk about her all the time. It’s not just all good things, the cranky things she did too. Just what she would have been doing. What she would have looked like if she had kids,” Jaz said.

And she’s confident her daughter would have been successful at anything she tried.

“Larissa would have been something big. She talked about being president. I hope she never would have done that. But she would have made her mark on the world. She made her mark on a lot of people anyway so,” Jaz said.

Michelle says Larissa would have celebrated her 16th birthday during her trip to Paris. She says she and her other daughter took a trip to Paris in honor of Larissa.

Eyewitness News will have more coverage of the 25th anniversary of the crash Friday and Saturday.

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