Students remembered during 33rd anniversary of East Coldenham tragedy

Nov. 16, 1989 is a day no one in the Valley Central school district will ever forget.

Blaise Gomez

Nov 16, 2022, 8:09 PM

Updated 554 days ago


Nov. 16, 1989  is a day no one in the Valley Central school district will ever forget. 
Montgomery Police Chief John Hank was a child then, during one of the worst tragedies in Orange County history.
“At the time, I was a student at Valley Central Middle School, and I remember what was a very violent, scary storm coming through,” said Hank. 
That storm was a sudden tornado that ripped through the front of East Coldenham Elementary School and collapsed a glass and concrete wall into the cafeteria where first, second and third graders were having lunch.  
File photo
“To this day, many people struggle with what they saw and what they had to do doing their jobs that day,” said Hank. 
More than 200 agencies responded to the school in the town of Newburgh as teachers and staff were seen scrambling to get surviving students to safety and looking for others in the rubble. 
“They faced a situation that they never prepared for,” said Hank. “Never had any thought process that this was something they would be faced with and did their best to work through it.” 
Seven children were killed that day, and two later died at the hospital. 
Eighteen others were injured, and an East Coldenham kindergartener was killed days later in a car accident outside of the school when a passerby got distracted by the scene and crashed into the car the child was in. 
Thirty-three years later, the district continues to remember the lives lost with a permanent memorial garden and stone monument where flowers are placed each year. 
Flags are flown at half-staff on this day, and students each year honor the lives lost with a moment of silence. 
The Valley Central School District released a statement saying the children who lost their lives are remembered throughout the year and during a fifth grade ceremony, where awards are given out in memory of each child who died in the tragedy.  

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