COAL TOWNSHIP - What used to be a plain purple locker tucked away in a small hallway at Shamokin Area Middle/High School is now covered with handmade letters and cards. And what used to be a mundane hallway is now decorated with posters filled with goodbyes.
Locker 517, which belonged to 13-year-old Missy Pangburn who died in Tuesday's fire at 5. S. Rock St., has become a hallowed place for fellow students.
"She was every teacher's dream," said seventh-grade reading teacher Lisa McCarthy, an educator for nine years.
McCarthy said she was strong Wednesday until fourth period when she noticed the empty desk where Missy used to sit.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with as a teacher," she said.
McCarthy spoke highly of Missy and wished all students were as friendly and enthusiastic as she was. She recalled Missy's smile and humorous demeanor the first day of school and noted how that smile never left even after months of school.
She last saw her Friday, when they all read Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."
"She loved playing Scrooge. She loved doing the accent. It was like she was an actress. She made it come alive for us," McCarthy said.
Missy had "that little something extra" that made others like her, she said.
'Fly high beautiful'
On Wednesday afternoon, seventh-grader Kaitlyn Merlino and eight-graders Desiree Bowman Olivia Kaleta, Madison Clauser and Brydee Derk, hung up a poster with scribbled messages of love in the hallway across from the bottom row locker.
"She was beautiful. She always had a smile on her face. A lot of people will miss her," said Bowman.
The walls above and next to Missy's locker were already filled with posters and notes Wednesday morning. The phrase "Fly high, beautiful" was repeated several times; "Lost but never ever forgotten" was written in large letters.
Seventh-grader Jayla Klase, who provided comments through her mother, Kathy Klase, via Facebook, said Missy had a positive attitude, was always happy and liked everybody.
"I will always remember in American history class we would share cookies and Cheese-its and she would always get kicked out of class for talking," she said. "I just can't believe that she is gone, and you should never take for granted what you have because you never know when it will be gone. I will never forget her and I hope that she is watching over all of us."
Counselors at school
Chris Venna, principal of Shamokin Area Middle/High School, said he met with staff first thing Wednesday to brief them on what happened and how to proceed during the school day.
Many students talked with the three grief counselors, guidance counselors and social workers who were at the school, he said.
Venna used the district's television network to broadcast the morning announcement to all the homerooms to ensure each student was aware of the news and that counselors were in the school.
The atmosphere has been "very somber," he said.
The principal said he's focused on making sure the counselors are not overwhelmed and that everyone gets through the day as normally as possible.
"We're doing the best we can under the circumstances," Venna said. "We want to keep Missy and her family and friends and loved ones in our thoughts and prayers as we move forward dealing with this tragedy."
Ready to help
At the scene of the fire, balloons, flowers and other mementos were placed on the porch of 5 S. Rock St. where Missy spent her final moments.
Venna said the students want to set up a way to provide donations for Missy's family, but he said he'd like to discuss it with Barbara Wiley, Missy's mother, before proceeding.
Kathy Klase and other parents are organizing a benefit for Missy's family at Club Echo, the underage club that opened in the basement of the Legion building in Shamokin earlier this year. The event will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday for youths 11 to 16 and they are asking for a minimum donation of $5.
All money will be donated to Missy's family, she said.
"We are hoping for a successful event and to raise as much money as we can for her family," Klase said. "I also think that this will be a good thing for these kids to get involved in."
The idea came from several of Pangburn's classmates, fellow seventh-graders Kaitlyn Merlino, Nicole Bainbridge, and Bethany Bordell.
A candleight vigil will take place at the scene at 6 p.m. tonight. A second vigil may also be planned for Saturday night, but no other details are available yet.