SHARON, Pa. - If Wednesday had been any other day, conversations among the regulars who gathered for lunch inside Donna's Diner on West State Street might have gravitated toward the recent snowy weather or upcoming community events.
Instead, attentions remained fixed on the church up the hill where just a few hours earlier hundreds of people had gathered for the first of three funerals many planned to attend this week.
"This community has been hit hard. There are many heavy hearts here right now," Esther Connors said softly.
Tribune Chronicle / Virginia Shank
Family, friends, teachers, classmates and community members line up Wednesday outside St. Joseph Church on Case Avenue in Sharon, Pa., where services were held for Sharon High School senior football player Corey Swartz, who, along with teammate and friend Evan Gill, died in a crash last week.
Connors, who has lived in the Sharon area all her life, said she doesn't recall a time in the small city's history when it has been confronted with the sadness it has experienced the past several days. She said the tone inside the diner, located in the heart of the small city, is usually lighter.
Tony Barber of Hermitage, Pa., agreed.
"I'm at the diner a lot. You usually hear a lot of chatter. There's a lot of laughing and small talk. You can sense the change," he said.
Barber said the focus the past week has been on the three sudden deaths that hit the community hard and unexpectedly last Friday night.
"It's a lot of loss, a lot of sadness to take in all at once. It's really been hard on a lot of people. It's been hard on the community," Barber said.
Police said Sharon High School football player Corey Swartz, 18, was driving with three teammates when he crossed the median on a highway in Sharon and hit a truck head-on. Also killed were Swartz's passenger, Evan Gill, 17, of Sharon, and the pickup truck driver, John Zdelar Jr., 50, of Brookfield.
Mike Buckley of Greenville, Pa., explained that to an outsider it might look like business as usual this week.
"But that's really not the case at all," said Buckley, who took time out with Barber to pay his respects to Gill's family during calling hours Wednesday evening at the John Flynn Funeral Home. Dozens of the people there said they intended to end their evening with a visit to Lane Madasz Funeral Home in Brookfield for Zdelar's calling hours.
Hundreds of community members started their day at St. Joseph Church across from the school complex in Sharon to pay their final respects and say good-bye to Swartz.
"This whole thing has been so hard. Most of us knew two of them. Some of us knew all three," remarked Dakota Winner, 18, a senior at Sharon and Swartz's cousin. "This is not something you ever expect. At least I never expected it."
Inside the church, Jeff Newell said he wanted to remind a community in mourning that "Jesus wept."
Reading the account of Lazarus from John 11 Newell, who presided over Swartz's funeral, explained that although the Scripture he quoted - John 11:35 - may be the shortest in the Bible, to him it is one of the most profound.
"What's amazing about this is that it tells us that God Himself cried. ... He knows what it's like. He knows what we're going through."
Travis Loosemore, 17, a sophomore at Sharon, said he believes the outpouring from the community and nearby areas has helped his classmates "start to put the pieces back together."
"It's been hard but every day gets a little better. It's still very strange inside the school though. You feel it when you walk down the halls. Everyone is still pretty shaken up," he said.
Jeanne Ferrara, who has lived in Sharon 26 years, works at The Winner clothing store downtown Sharon. She said she hears many people coming through the doors at the store talking about the crash. Also on their minds is Linda Clark, who underwent emergency surgery after being stabbed in the neck Sunday while working as an emergency room greeter for The Sharon (Pa.) Regional Health Systems.
"It's been a lot to take in. It really is a slow process. I think for many people, especially the adults in the community, it will all get back to normal soon. But I think it will take the kids longer. They're the ones who have to put the pieces back together for themselves and try to make sense of all of this at school and among their friends and classmates," she said.
She said it seems that for much of the community it has been "business as usual."
"But it's still here. There's a sadness here. You can feel it, you can sense it. It's just here," she said. "People are going to work. Students are going to school. People are shopping and running errands. But it's all still very new. I think it may take some time for many people in this community to come to terms with this."