Even for people who make a career of bringing people back from the edge of death, yesterday's carnage in Woodlawn was profound: four little children and a young mother struck and killed by an out-of-control automobile.
"It's the most tragic thing I've seen in Baltimore County," said Battalion Chief Mark F. Hubbard, a 13-year veteran of the county Fire Department. "It doesn't get any worse than this."
Police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other rescue workers who rushed to the scene of the 7 a.m. accident said that doing their jobs was only part of dealing with the disaster. Taking care ++ of their emotions, by seeking counseling and the comfort of one another, is the rest.
"Every person has to deal with it in their own way," said Lt. Vernon Noratel of the Westview fire station. He and most other firefighters at the station have small children. "But everyone remembers the real tragedy is [for] the father who lost his family. We'll go onto the next thing, but this is the worst thing that'll ever happen to him."
Police Lt. Minda Foxwell, the mother of an 11-year-old, agreed: "Anybody that's a mother can't help but feel something."
At the accident scene, where hundreds of people were held back by yellow police tape, many stood by for hours, dumbfounded and still.
"Isn't that sad?" said Shirley Lance, her voice quivering.
At one point, a county police officer identifying bodies with Charles Dorsey IV, who lost his wife and two children in the accident, had to be relieved and given another task.
"He had done his job well," said Sgt. William Duty. "And he started to break down a little bit."
Ray Barnes, president of a Harford County forensic transport team that took the bodies to the state medical examiner's office, is the father of three. Although he had to look at the dead children in summer clothes, their eyes closed, he tried not to look too hard. He said: "I didn't look, look. I looked enough to inventory what was there, but that's it."
Mr. Barnes took the victims to the state Medical Examiner's office in Baltimore, where four doctors handled the autopsies when the bodies arrived at 11:30 a.m.
The work of figuring out how the victims had died was not difficult for people who "see trauma every day that average people don't even imagine," said Dr. Dennis Chute, an assistant state medical examiner.
Of the forensic pathologists who handled the victims, only one of them is the parent of a young child. And that doctor, Ling Li, was the only one moved by the routine duty.
"I did the 7-year-old girl," said Dr. Li. "Every time you get a baby case, or children, it's difficult. When I was finished, because I have a 7-year-old boy, I wondered what it would be like if it had happened to my child. But I didn't think about it while I was doing the work."