Ronnie Young said he felt like he lost a part of himself in the days after the 2005 Graniteville train derailment.
The Aiken County Council chairman and former Avondale Mills employee lost two of his colleagues – Allen Frazier and Steven Bagby – in the early morning accident.
The crash and the resulting chlorine leak forced more than 5,400 people within a mile of the derailment site to evacuate their homes for several days, and the mood in Graniteville changed overnight, said Young, who grew up in the area.
“It was solemn,” he said. “There was a lot of unrest as people wondered who might have been or who might not have been killed by (the spill).”
On Saturday, the ninth annual Train Derailment Memorial Program at Bethlehem Baptist Church helped the community celebrate its recovery.
More than 100 people packed the church’s chapel for an afternoon of upbeat music as they celebrated the lives of the nine victims of the Jan. 6, 2005, accident and the growth that Graniteville has experienced since the tragedy.
“We’re trying to make sure that the country never forgets Graniteville,” said the Rev. James Abraham, of Bethlehem Baptist Church. “One of the things we’ve recognized is that this tragedy caused this community to come together and unite.”
The program featured several musical acts. Abraham, who performed with the Dynamic Abraham Brothers, said he helped to write the song Celebrating Recovery for the event.
After the opening remarks, family members of some of the victims came to the front of the chapel to light white candles in tribute. As each of the victims’ names was read aloud, the toll of a bell echoed throughout the room.
Cecil Atchley, who was an assistant principal at Leavelle McCampbell Middle School at the time of the accident, said he remembers receiving a call early that morning advising him not to come to work.
“It was a catastrophe,” he said. “Thank God that it didn’t happen on a school day.”
Though the accident proved to be a major setback for the growth of the city, Atchley said, he admires the perseverance of the community.
“The attitude of these people is like the heart of America,” he said. “They come together one for all and all for one.”