Hope and Healing for Binghamton
From Former Mayor,
Juanita M. Crabb
On April 3, 2009, I watched as the national news broke with terrifying accounts of a hostage situation taking place in upstate New York. To my horror, it was Binghamton. My sister Clare was visiting me in Washington, DC, for the weekend. She learned her daughter was in lockdown at Binghamton High School. I called my son to see if he was alright and to find out more. Even in Binghamton, the rumors were rampant: hostages held, one dead, more dead, shots fired, many injured. The news kept changing from minute to minute.
Then came the live television reports.
There was Police Chief Zikuski. I remember you as a tough and no nonsense officer. I knew, with you at the helm, every action that could be taken would be taken to save lives and protect people. Chief Thomas, I saw you on the scene and could think of no finer person to lead the Fire and Emergency Department response, to bring help to the injured and comfort to the survivors.
When the news conference played Friday afternoon, the report was staggering: fourteen dead, four injured. Instead of strangers at the podium, there were faces that I knew: Mayor Ryan, Chief Zikusky, Chief Thomas, Senator Libous, Congressman Hinchey. Mayor Ryan, only a mayor knows the gut wrenching responsibility of having to report on such a ghastly occurrence with professionalism while on the inside your heart is breaking for your citizens.
Yesterday, with the release of the victim’s names, there was my friend, Maria Zobniw. I met her when I was a new second grade student at St. Cyril’s School. She showed me how to make a carnation out of tissue paper and I knew we would be friends for a very long time. Her name then was Maria Koropej and we called her Mima. She was so smart - the smartest in the class all the way through ninth grade! Whenever any one of us made a grade as high as Mima, we knew we did well. She was funny, always humble and sometimes even a little shy. But one thing she was never shy about was her love for her Ukrainian Heritage. She taught us how to decorate Easter Eggs in the Ukrainian tradition, a skill I remember to this day. In eighth grade, she produced a Ukrainian Dance Performance where she taught the class traditional dances and we performed for the parish in authentic costume. I remember her helping me to stuff the costume sleeves with paper so they would be really puffy.
We came together again, when I was Mayor, after a request came from Maria Zobniw for a flag raising in honor of the Ukrainian community. Imagine my surprise when Maria turned out to be my friend, Mima. For years I would look forward to seeing her again, meeting her loving husband Lubomyr and seeing her children – always in Ukrainian costume – grow in number and age as they came to help raise the flag year after year.
On Saturday, my sister and I walked down past the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue where they displayed the front pages of newspapers from Alabama to Wyoming, all reporting on the Massacre in Binghamton. A man turned to us and stated how cool it was to be able to see all of the newspapers at once. My sister said to him, “Not really, when your hometown is Binghamton, NY.” He stood quietly for a few seconds and then said, “Please let them know we are all praying for them”.
I read a New York Times article on Saturday that described Binghamton as being a town of only ten percent immigrants. The story is so wrong. This is a city where we are all immigrants, many first or second generation. When I campaigned door-to door, many in the First Ward still spoke their native Polish, Russian, Ukrainian or Slovak. Many in the Italian Community still speak Italian. The Irish Community hosts the biggest Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. I want to believe, because of its history, so many immigrants still come to Binghamton knowing that it is a city where their diversity will be honored and they will be welcomed as one of the city’s new citizens.
Today the story is already being pushed off the front page and from the lead story on the TV broadcasts. There are the questions of why begging for answers and demanding someone to blame. There are speeches of coming together and how the Binghamton Community will get through this horror.
We do need a time, however, to grieve and to know how this will change our lives forever. Will we perhaps be kinder to someone else in pain or realize for the first time what it means to understand the other horrors that are happening in this world? Will we be so thankful for the good we know and for the brave men and woman who are in our everyday lives? Will we hug our children just a little bit tighter? Will we call our friends to say hello, or do something kind for a stranger? It will take a while to stop hurting this badly and by no means will we ever forget.
I remember the day of my father’s funeral thinking how can the world just go on so unaffected when I am hurting so deeply? During the funeral we sang “On Eagles’ Wings” that, to this day, gives me comfort. I offer these words to the family of my friend Mima and to the friends and families of the victims, of the injured, for those who came to their aid on Friday and for all those who will be needed for help in the days to come, that this may give them comfort as well:
“And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His hand.”
May the Lord continue to hold us in the palm of his hand, bring comfort to us all in this time of sorrow, and know, no matter where we are, those from Binghamton are grieving too.