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Germanwings tragedy: 'We're a small town, it's natural you know some people personally' - German town of Haltern mourns 16 students, two teachers

In Pictures: Tributes paid to victims of tragic Germanwings crash Close

A student places a candle at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

A student places a candle at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

REUTERS

Candles - some with names written on it - sit on a table tennis table in front of the Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium in Haltern, western Germany Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Candles - some with names written on it - sit on a table tennis table in front of the Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium in Haltern, western Germany Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

AP

Students arrive at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Students arrive at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

REUTERS

Students hug as they arrive at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Students hug as they arrive at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

REUTERS

Students hold onto each other as they arrive at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Students hold onto each other as they arrive at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

REUTERS

Students hold onto each other as they arrive at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Students hold onto each other as they arrive at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

REUTERS

Sylvia Loehrmann (C), North-Rhine Westphalia's minister of education, arrives at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Sylvia Loehrmann (C), North-Rhine Westphalia's minister of education, arrives at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

REUTERS

Burning candles and pins of German airlines Condor, Germanwings and Lufthansa (L-R) are placed by crew members in commemoration of the victims of Germanwings flight 4U9525 in front of the Germanwings headquarters at Cologne-Bonn airport March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Burning candles and pins of German airlines Condor, Germanwings and Lufthansa (L-R) are placed by crew members in commemoration of the victims of Germanwings flight 4U9525 in front of the Germanwings headquarters at Cologne-Bonn airport March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

REUTERS

Students hug each other as they arrive at the Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium in Haltern, western Germany, Wednesday, March 25, 2015 on the day after 16 school children and 2 teachers died in the Germanwings jet airliner crash in the French Alps from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Students hug each other as they arrive at the Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium in Haltern, western Germany, Wednesday, March 25, 2015 on the day after 16 school children and 2 teachers died in the Germanwings jet airliner crash in the French Alps from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

AP

School children watch the candles placed in front of their school as they arrive at the Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium in Haltern, western Germany, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, the day after 16 school children and 2 teachers died in the Germanwings jet airliner crash in the French Alps from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

School children watch the candles placed in front of their school as they arrive at the Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium in Haltern, western Germany, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, the day after 16 school children and 2 teachers died in the Germanwings jet airliner crash in the French Alps from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

AP

Students mourn in front of the Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium in Haltern, western Germany, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, one day after 16 school children and two teachers were among the 150 victims that died in the Germanwings plane crash in the French alps on the way from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Students mourn in front of the Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium in Haltern, western Germany, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, one day after 16 school children and two teachers were among the 150 victims that died in the Germanwings plane crash in the French alps on the way from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

AP

A student kneels down at candles placed in front of the Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium in Haltern, western Germany, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, the day after 16 school children and 2 teachers died in the Germanwings jet airliner crash in the French Alps from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

A student kneels down at candles placed in front of the Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium in Haltern, western Germany, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, the day after 16 school children and 2 teachers died in the Germanwings jet airliner crash in the French Alps from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

AP

Relatives of students and a member of Special Assistance Team stand in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See, March, 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Relatives of students and a member of Special Assistance Team stand in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See, March, 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

REUTERS

French gendarmes stand outside the gymnasium where relatives and officials are due to pay tribute to the victims of the Airbus A320 crash, in Seyne-les-Alpes, March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

French gendarmes stand outside the gymnasium where relatives and officials are due to pay tribute to the victims of the Airbus A320 crash, in Seyne-les-Alpes, March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

REUTERS

French firefighters and rescue members gather outside the gymnasium where relatives and officials are due to pay tribute to the victims of the Airbus A320 crash, in Seyne-les-Alpes, March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

French firefighters and rescue members gather outside the gymnasium where relatives and officials are due to pay tribute to the victims of the Airbus A320 crash, in Seyne-les-Alpes, March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

REUTERS

French firefighters and rescue members gather outside the gymnasium where relatives and officials are due to pay tribute to the victims of the Airbus A320 crash, in Seyne-les-Alpes, March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

French firefighters and rescue members gather outside the gymnasium where relatives and officials are due to pay tribute to the victims of the Airbus A320 crash, in Seyne-les-Alpes, March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

REUTERS

French firefighters gather outside the gymnasium where relatives and officials are due to pay tribute to the victims of the Airbus A320 crash, in Seyne-les-Alpes, March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

French firefighters gather outside the gymnasium where relatives and officials are due to pay tribute to the victims of the Airbus A320 crash, in Seyne-les-Alpes, March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

REUTERS

Students embrace in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See, March, 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Students embrace in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See, March, 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

REUTERS

Relatives of students and members of Special Assistance Team stand in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See, March, 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Relatives of students and members of Special Assistance Team stand in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See, March, 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

REUTERS

Students embrace in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See, March, 25, 2015.  REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Students embrace in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See, March, 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

REUTERS

Relatives of students and members of Special Assistance Team stand in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See, March, 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Relatives of students and members of Special Assistance Team stand in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See, March, 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

REUTERS

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A student places a candle at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Lara Beer waited at the railway station, looking forward to seeing her best friend, who had been on a week-long exchange trip to Spain.

The 14-year-old said the train arrived as planned yesterday afternoon, but her friend Paula was not on it.

"I just went back home," Lara told the Associated Press today, wiping tears from beneath her red-framed glasses. "Then my parents told me Paula was dead."

Lara's friend was one of 16 students and two teachers from the main high school in the western German town of Haltern who were killed when the Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf crashed in the French Alps.

A total of 67 Germans, many Spaniards, as well as people from Australia, Japan, Israel, Turkey, Denmark and the Netherlands are believed to be among the 150 who died.

The crash has hit Haltern hard. In the rural town amid fields about 50 miles (80km) north-east of Duesseldorf, it seems everyone knew someone who died on board the Airbus A320.

"We are a town of 38,000," Mayor Bodo Klimpel said on ARD television, adding that his son attends the same school as the students who died. "It's only natural that you know some people personally."

Classes were cancelled today but students were encouraged to attend the Joseph Koenig High School anyway, to be with classmates and talk with psychologists and other counsellors.

Police erected a line outside the building to keep dozens of reporters and cameras away from the children as they hugged and wept at a makeshift memorial of candles and flowers at the entrance to the building.

"We're here to help on a difficult day so that the people here in Haltern have the chance to mourn," police spokeswoman Inge Such said.

A hand-painted sign propped up on an outdoor ping-pong table read in white letters: "Yesterday we were many; today we are alone", with 16 white crosses painted underneath the message.

Lara was one of a group who came from a neighbouring school to be with the Joseph Koenig students to try to come to terms with what happened.

"We're all talking with each other; the atmosphere is indescribable," she said. "You just can't believe that your own friend is gone."

Joseph Koenig High School's principal, Ulrich Wessel, said: "Nothing will be the way it was at our school any more."

Mr Wessel said that when the first call came about the crash, he hoped that the students had missed the plane.

But the regional governor informed local officials that they were on the passenger list.

Mr Wessel said one of the teachers who was on the plane had been married for less than six months.

He said: "It is a tragedy that makes one speechless, and we will have to learn to deal with it."

Mr Wessel added: "I was asked yesterday how many students there are at the high school in Haltern, and I said '1,283' without thinking - then had to say afterward, unfortunately, '16 fewer, since yesterday'. And I find that so terrible."

Online Editors


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