Students at St. Mary's Institute in Amsterdam lit 20 candles on the chapel altar Oct. 9 to remember those who lost their lives.
Students at St. Mary's Institute in Amsterdam lit 20 candles on the chapel altar Oct. 9 to remember those who lost their lives.

Among the 20 people killed in a devastating limousine accident Oct. 6 in Schoharie were several victims who had connections to parishes, schools and Catholic organizations of the Albany Diocese.

For example, Amanda Halse, 26, was a server, bartender and supervisor at the restaurant at Shaker Pointe senior living community in Watervliet, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She and her boyfriend, Patrick Cushing, both died in the crash.

Gregory Reeves, regional vice president for Lifestyles, the company that runs the restaurant, recalled the young woman everyone called “Mandy” as low-key, with a “Mona Lisa smile.” Ms. Halse had worked at Shaker Pointe for the past three years, since the restaurant opened.

“She had an infectious smile,” Mr. Reeves said, and “what was behind it was a desire to please.”

He said he had spoken to Ms. Halse about pursuing a career in the restaurant industry; he believed she had what it took to succeed.

Tragic loss

Sister Kay Ryan, CSJ, who is also part of Shaker Pointe’s leadership team, agreed with that assessment. When customers arrived at the restaurant, she said, “Mandy would say, ‘Can I get you what you normally order, or are you trying to experiment?’

“It’s such a tragedy that this person who had such potential is not going to be here to fulfill it,” Sister Kay added. “She certainly lived the mission of Shaker Pointe.”

The restaurant has put up a poster picturing Ms. Halse’s face in the middle of a sunflower, one of her favorite flowers. There will also be a guest book that staff, residents and other customers can sign, which Mr. Reeves will present to Ms. Halse’s family.

All connected

Mr. Cushing, Ms. Halse’s boyfriend, graduated from eighth grade at St. Mary’s Institute in Amsterdam (SMI) in 2001.

“He was a wonderful, quiet, shy kid,” recalled SMI alumni relations director Jeanette Constantine, who knew several of the victims and their families. Mrs. Constantine noted that newlyweds Shane McGowan and Erin Vertucci McGowan, two more of the crash victims, also attended SMI through seventh grade and second grade, respectively.

SMI remembered the victims in morning prayers when the school reopened Oct. 9 after Columbus Day weekend. Mrs. Constantine said they would also be mentioned in an upcoming liturgy.

The McGowans married in June at St. Mary’s parish in Am­sterdam.

Mrs. McGowan, who was working toward a master’s degree in special education, had worked at St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam. The hospital posted on Facebook that “St. Mary’s Healthcare family sends thoughts and prayers to the families and friends of those affected by the Schoharie tragedy” and noted that the community is “[coming] together to support one another during this difficult time.”

Mrs. McGowan was also Mr. Cushing’s cousin. One current pre-kindergarten student at SMI lost an uncle in the accident. Another victim’s godchild attends SMI.

The intertwined connections are an indication of the closeness of the Amsterdam-area community. Two Catholics told The Evangelist that family members had been on school sports teams with several of the victims and were coached by others.

Vigils held

Mrs. Constantine said her nephew was a close friend of Mr. Cushing’s and had flown in from Chicago to attend a candlelight vigil held the evening of Oct. 8 at the Amsterdam pedestrian bridge.

Rev. Jeffrey L’Arche, MM, pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Am­sterdam, attended that vigil, which drew well over 1,000 people. He said the candles, which had been purchased from W.B. O’Connor’s Church Goods in Latham, ran out before all the participants could take one.

Father L’Arche said up to 10 of the victims’ funerals could be offered at nearby St. Stanislaus parish in Amsterdam. Two more will likely be at St. Mary’s, he said. St. Stephen’s parish in Hagaman, where some victims’ parents worship and one of the couples were married, could also be a site for some funerals.

As The Evangelist went to print Oct. 9, dates had not been set for any funeral Masses.

List of victims

Also killed in the accident were Richard Steenburg Jr. and his sister and brother-in-law, Axel and Amy Steenburg; Amy King Steenburg’s three sisters, Mary King Dyson, Abigail King Jackson and Allison King; Mary’s husband, Robert Dyson; Abigail’s husband, Adam Jackson; Amanda Rivenburg; Rachael Cavosie (a 2006 graduate of Catholic Central High School in Troy); Matthew Coons; Savannah DeVonne Bursese; Michael Ukaj; and pedestrians Brian Hough and his father-in-law, James Schnurr. The driver of the limousine, Scott Lisinicchia, was also killed.

[Update: St. Stanislaus parish in Amsterdam will have a funeral Mass Oct. 13, 1 p.m., for eight of the victims: the four King sisters, the husbands of the three sisters who were married, and Richard Steenburg Jr. Calling hours will be Oct. 12, 3-7 p.m., at the church. Mr. Cushing's funeral will be Oct. 13, 9 a.m., at St. Mary's in Amsterdam. The funeral of Mr. and Mrs. McGowan will be Oct. 15, 11:15 a.m., at St. Mary's; calling hours will be 2-6 p.m. Oct. 14 at the church.]

Mrs. Constantine, Father L’Arche and others used similar words to describe the tragedy: “overwhelming,” “heartbreaking” and “gut-wrenching.”

Mrs. Constantine said the hundreds of thousands of dollars already raised for children and other survivors through online GoFundMe pages, as well as the sheer number of memorials held for the victims, show the depth of the tragedy. The accident has been called the deadliest transportation accident in the United States since 2009.

All four King sisters played on a soccer team that held a moment of silence for them at a game Oct. 9, Mrs. Constantine said.

“It’s very overwhelming. So many [victims are] from our St. Mary’s Institute community, our church community.”