By DAVID HURST
The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat
SHANKSVILLE, Pa. (AP) - As the days following 9/11 turned into passing years, park rangers at the Flight 93 National Memorial began to face an unplanned challenge.
Ava Maddox, 7, of Birmingham, Ala., receives the first copy of the Flight 93 National Memorial Junior Ranger Program near Shanksville, Pa. on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. The publication was designed to help children understand the 2001 plane crash.
Parents reliving the tragic day terrorists attacked the nation were approaching park staff, asking them to explain the sometimes dark, difficult subject matter in a way their young children would understand, park superintendent Jeff Reinbold said.
In most cases, the youngsters weren't alive the day Flight 93 crashed, killing its 40 passengers, he said.
"That's not an easy thing to explain to children," Reinbold said, noting it was quickly apparent the National Park's "traditional" activity book was not the answer.
Flight 93 park staff, the University of Pittsburgh, Highmark Caring Place and The Fred Rogers Co. ended up undertaking a two-year effort - and months of research - to answer that question, he said.
The result is a 22-page Junior Ranger book its creators say is unlike any other developed for National Park sites.
"What happened is so contemporary. Their parents remember it," Reinbold said, noting children experiencing the park might at the same time be shocked or confused to see their mother or father reacting emotionally to the crash site.
Developed for children ages 6 to 12, the book explains important themes, such as honoring Flight 93's heroes and reflecting on their losses, through side notes and activities, said Mary Margaret Kerr, a Pitt psychology in education and administrative and policy studies professor, who served as team director.
The book's short Flight 93 story was written by The Fred Rogers Co. in a context children can read and understand, she said.
"Hopefully," Ranger Adam Shaffer added, "its one more tool parents can use to explain this story."
The research team ended up looking through hundreds of items that were left at the crash site for a better understanding of how children were processing - and impacted by - the Flight 93 crash.
They quickly realized after running an early draft of the book by a test group of children that young children who learn about 9/11 are still compelled to memorialize those lost that day, Kerr said.
"Children were tearing little pieces from their activity books. It turned out they were leaving notes behind for the victims. Drawing pictures for them," Kerr said.
The group decided to scrap one of the planned pages and replace it with a spot where children can illustrate their own tributes, she said.
"The park's goal is for people to leave the park with their own meaning and thoughts about what they saw that day, and I think even the youngest of us can do that," said Mary Anne McMullen, the book's illustrator.
The book is now available for park visitors, Reinbold said, noting a Junior Ranger Day will be held Saturday to officially launch the program.
Samuel and Barbara Bullard credited the group for their undertaking.
The Fort Worth, Texas, couple noted their 10-year-old daughter was not yet born when Flight 93 was attacked and then crashed here, and agreed that explaining the story is not a simple task.
"For us, it's personal. This is a sacred burial ground. But for them, it's history," Samuel Bullard said.
"This will help," he said, holding the book.