''Reach for the stars,'' Christa McAuliffe used to tell her social studies students at Concord High School.
On Tuesday, a stunned and somber Charles Foley, the principal, recited those words as he sought to explain the fiery death of a beloved colleague and the nation's first teacher-astronaut.
''Her words are more applicable now than they ever were and Christa would want her students to believe that and feel that,'' Foley said at a press conference almost four hours after the shuttle explosion.
Concord High students, who earlier had sported party hats, noisemakers and streamers as they watched the televised launch, were suddenly ordered back to their classrooms from the library, auditorium and cafeteria.
Foley sent them home at midday, closed the school today and asked school psychologists and counselors to stand by to help students already traumatized late last year when a student dropout returned to school with a shotgun and was later killed by a policeman.
Townspeople -- who had turned out by the hundreds in July when McAuliffe was chosen from among more than 11,000 teachers -- sat along Main Street in the New Hampshire capital as they tried to make sense of the explosion. Their triumph had turned to tragedy. In newsstands around town, an enormous headline in the Concord Monitor proclaimed ''Shuttle Explodes.''
Residents took to heart the news about the plain-spoken, exuberant woman who always told them they could be more than they might imagine.
''Although the impact would be the same in a town of any size, in Concord, because we tend to know each other better, it's like losing a member of the family,'' said Fred Kocher, a former city council member working in Concord for U.S. Sen. Warren Rudman.
Across Main Street from Rudman's office, at Thorne's dress shop, a saleswoman listlessly rearranged blouses.
''It has been really a shock. People have been coming in here very down. When the shuttle went up this morning, I had a funny feeling that so many things had already gone wrong maybe it should have been postponed,'' she said, declining to give her name.
She was not alone. Dozens of Concord residents asked the dozens of reporters who descended upon them to leave them alone in their grief.
Once every four years, when presidential primary fever rips New Hampshire, the locals are a gracious and accommodating lot.
But Christa McAuliffe was no pol. She seemed to touch a special chord among her neighbors.
One of them was Steve Thompson, 33, a former city probation officer who teaches karate and works with juvenile delinquents. Thompson visited McAuliffe's class three or four times a year and remembered ''Christie'' as a ''really nice lady . . . it's just totally incomprehensible to me. It's going to be a big loss in Concord.''
As he spoke, juniors Kristin Tousignant and Rodney Dow were practicing their karate moves. Earlier Tuesday, Kristin watched the launch in the Concord High cafeteria. ''We all felt pretty good until we realized what happened. Everybody was just staring and staring and staring. There was just a quiet silence for so long.''
Rodney, who knew McAuliffe as a ''real decent'' hall monitor, remembers selling bumper stickers this summer that said, ''We are proud of Christa McAuliffe.'' But now, six months later, ''We were all crying.''
As night fell, people sat in front of television sets to see again the horror of the explosion and film clips of McAuliffe with her husband, Steve, her two children, with President Reagan, Vice President Bush, in training in her blue NASA jump suit, with students and riding down Main Street perched atop a convertible.
State Sen. Susan McLane stood weeping in the New Hampshire Statehouse on Tuesday morning. ''I just hope and pray Concord can gather around that little family.''Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times