HAVERHILL — Jennifer Bell never got to meet her niece or become a doting aunt. Her life was cut short at age 17 when on Nov. 4, 1997 she was trying to cross the train bridge in downtown Haverhill on foot when a freight train hit her, tossing her into the Merrimack River. She was with several friends, who managed to escape unharmed.
Her sister Ashley Bell, who was 14 at the time, said her parents Wayne and Pamela Bell lost a daughter and she lost her big sister.
Bell, 29, of Groveland, said she doesn’t want another family to feel the pain of loss that she and her family experienced.
To remember her sister and to remind people of the dangers of playing on the train tracks, Bell dedicated a park bench in her sister’s memory. She purchased it with money she raised and gave the remainder to charities.
During an emotional ceremony attended by more than 25 friends, family members and Mayor James Fiorentini, Ashley Bell talked about why she wanted this form of a remembrance.
“It’s a place were we can all go and talk to her, think about her or just simply smile, thinking of a great memory,” she said, telling the crowd that she’d been keeping an inscription on the bench a secret. She explained what “Angel Eyes and Open Arms, Jennifer Bell 1997 Forever Watching Over Us” meant.
“Angel Eyes is a Jeff Healy band song that Jenn listened to over and over again.... obsessed with it, as most teenagers do with songs,” Bell said.
“And ‘Open Arms,’ now this is an easy one,’” she said about a song by the band Journey. “I chose this because a few months after Jenn’s passing her graduating class sang this song as a dedication to her at school ... Perhaps these songs can be a reminder for you as well.”