Ceremonies commemorate Metrolink crash victims

Ceremonies commemorate Metrolink crash victims
Sharon Aiken, whose husband, Christopher, was killed in the Metrolink train crash, is embraced at the start of a memorial ceremony at Stoney Point Park in Chatsworth to mark the one-year anniversary of the disaster, which killed 25 people and injured 135. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

At the base of a rocky hill within earshot of passing trains, they came to remember the fashion student, the music store owner, the police officer -- the 25 people in all who died a year ago Saturday in the devastating Chatsworth train crash.

Ray Villalobos and 20 others huddled in pink shirts imprinted with bright pink lips to honor his 18-year-old fashion-student sister, Maria Elena Villalobos.

Kim Brower, now a 46-year-old widow, wore a smile and remained upbeat in memory of her husband of 23 years, music store owner Dean Brower, 51.

And Sha Moran, the mother of Spree DeSha, a 35-year-old Los Angeles police officer who died in the crash, sobbed quietly on her husband's shoulder.

As the name of each victim was called, families rose somberly to watch a relative or rescuer place a white rose by a fountain at the south end of Stoney Point Park, just a few yards from where Metrolink 111 collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train on Sept. 12, 2008.

Some said it took courage for them to show up and endure the emotions dredged up by the hourlong memorial.

"What we share here today is an inadequate expression of what we carry in our hearts," said Mitchell Englander, a city employee who joined countless volunteers and rescue workers to pull passengers from the wreckage on the day of the incident. In all, 135 were injured.

The memorial was one of several held to mark the one-year anniversary of the crash. In downtown Los Angeles last week, a bronze plaque was unveiled at Union Station. At Chatsworth Hills Academy, the neighboring school that became a triage area moments after the incident, a tree was planted. And in Simi Valley, home of 10 of the deceased passengers, several hundred people gathered to dedicate a memorial plaza.

Though most residents in the Chatsworth and Simi Valley area did not know the victims, many were shaken by the tragedy. Those living near the crash site jumped over fences and ran to the scene to help. They fed rescuers, turned driveways into water stations and offered free counseling to those most affected.

"What we saw left a permanent ingrain in our minds," said Andre Van der Valk, a 62-year-old business owner who pulled three people from the train. "You try to forget, but it's always there."

At the Stoney Point ceremony organized by Los Angeles Councilman Greig Smith, police and fire officials apologized for not being able to save more lives and told surviving relatives that their loved ones had been treated with dignity.

"I promise you their lives were not lost in vain and we will strive to do a better job next time," Mark Stormes, assistant chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department, choking back tears, told the families.

Clergy members delivered benedictions; there was a helicopter fly-over, a bagpipe player and the release of 25 white doves.

A plaque remembering the victims will be placed on the north end of the park, overlooking the tracks where the crash happened.

Throughout the ceremony, Sha Moran's chin trembled in grief. A photograph of her daughter in her police uniform hung around the mother's neck. Any mention of her daughter's name or of the incident brought her to tears. She and her husband, Allan, planted a fig tree in their backyard in their daughter's honor. "We'll never be at peace without her," Sha Moran said as the doves circled overhead. "She was our everything."

Nearby, Tina Mosley, 37, stayed close to her aunts and uncles, now and then bowing her head in sorrow for her mother, nurse Beverly Mosley, 57.

Like others who wanted to honor the legacy of fallen relatives, the family started a foundation -- the Beverly Mosley Foundation of Excellence. The organization will help pay to educate single mothers.

"I'm trying to pick up the pieces and forge a new life, but it's not easy," Tina Mosley said.