ELKTON -- The television in Krystle Marie Donlon's bedroom is still turned on, still tuned to MTV. For her family, the reality that she will be not be coming back to her little home in Cecil County has just begun to sink in.
Krystle was a shy, pretty girl who was killed Saturday on a railroad bridge in Cecil County. She was perched above the Little North East Creek, tossing rocks into the water with her stepfather, two younger brothers and Marcus Boyle, a 5-year-old family friend, when an Amtrak passenger train, the southbound Virginian, came around a bend going about 100 mph.
Investigators say the train was about to hit Marcus when Krystle pushed him out of its path. But the train either hit her or pulled her under, and Krystle, 14, was dead at the scene.
Maryland State Police and Amtrak officials are investigating the accident. Police said Krystle's stepfather, Michael Durante, 38, was on the bridge with the children on the way home from a fishing trip at the time of the accident.
When the train came whipping around the curve, there was nowhere to run. The drop was 30 or 40 feet, and there would be little clearance on either side of the train when it came barreling through. Durante, who wasn't available yesterday, apparently yelled to the children to lie low and as close to the edge of the bridge as they could, but the little one went running and Krystle went to save him.
The boy's mother, Carol Boyle, said she was grateful for Krystle's sacrifice. "She'll always be a hero in my eyes," she said.
"Just a baby. She never got a chance at life," said Krystle's mother, Trudy Donlon, who can't bring herself to turn off the television in her daughter's room or disturb her dolls or do much of anything with the girl's cat, Isabella, which the mother never liked but now will never get rid of.
Yesterday, she was at the kitchen table at the home of her mother, Dorothy Reams, and the two women spent a good part of the day rubbing old photographs of the girl with their thumbs and looking at pictures she had painted. The room was all memories and sadness. When a smile broke through, it came with fresh tears.
"I don't know how we get through this," said the grandmother, gazing at the girl in pictures: on a black and white pony, on a card she made for her family, lying on the living room carpet, drawing.
"We can't get much of anything more out of my boys," said Donlon. "She was protective of her brothers, protective of everybody, but it's hard to say exactly what happened. What I need is some answers about all this, and it's breaking my heart because I can't even get them from my own boys."
"Not yet," gently added Krystle's grandmother, explaining that the boys witnessed their sister's death and were initially too upset to talk. When they did talk, they could not remember much about what happened, she said.
Donlon brought her family from Florida to Elkton in September. Her father had died of cancer in June, and Donlon thought it best to be closer to her mother, who lives about 15 miles outside of Elkton., in Middletown, Del.
Krystle's life had not been easy, but she was happy, her mother and grandmother said. The girl lived with her family in a small, two-bedroom apartment in Elkton. Money has never been in great supply for Donlon, and on the day her daughter was killed she had gone in early to the Elkton McDonald's, trying to earn some overtime to pay the bills.
Her decision to go into work at noon rather than her normal 6 p.m. is one of her great regrets, she said.
"If I hadn't gone in, she wouldn't have gone fishing, and this wouldn't have happened," Donlon said. "We would have gone to the flea market. She loved shopping."
Donlon wants no false sentimentality directed toward her daughter. Krystle was not the most popular student at her school, Cherry Hill Middle School, she said. Other kids sometimes made fun of her because of her clothing ("I didn't have the money to dress her up real stylish," Donlon said), and her shyness kept her from breaking into the cliques that formed before she transferred to the eighth grade from Florida.
"She had a couple of close friends, but mostly she had her drawing and that cat," said her mother. The cat has five kittens. The mother had been trying to give them away, but Krystle scrutinized the people who came by for them and sometimes sent them on their way kittenless.
"She was a tough screener," Donlon said. "If she didn't think it was going to be a good home, the kittens couldn't go."
Krystle's mother does not know when she might be able to bear going into her daughter's room to turn off the television. Maybe, after she gets an anticipated gift from a friend of Krystle's, things will be just a bit easier.
The friend has an audiotape of Krystle playing a game and singing and giggling.
"It's the only thing I know of with her voice on it," her mother said. "I don't have her no more, but I'll have her voice. Ain't that something?"
A memorial service for Krystle Marie Donlon is scheduled for 1 p.m. tomorrow at Gee Funeral Home, 259 E. Main St. in Elkton.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 2/23/99