11 with UB ties die in plane crash
Alison Des Forges, an internationally known human rights advocate and member of the UB community, was among the victims of Thursday night’s crash of a Continental Connection flight in Clarence Center.
Des Forges, wife of UB history professor Roger Des Forges, served as an adjunct member of the UB history faculty during the 1990s and received an honorary doctorate from SUNY during UB’s 155th general commencement ceremony in 2001.
Six UB alumni were among those confirmed publicly to date as passengers who died in the crash. They include Gerard Niewood of New Jersey, a 1965 graduate and musician with the Chuck Mangione Band; Susan Wehle, who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2002 and 1974, and was cantor at Temple Beth Am in Amherst; Jennifer E. Neill of Clarence, B.S. ’99, a pharmaceutical sales representative; and Jean Marzolf Srnecz of Clinton, N.J., M.A. ’72, senior vice president of merchandising for Baker & Taylor.
Also on board the plane were two alumni who were employees of Northrop Grumman Corp.: Darren Tolsma Sr. of Lancaster, who received his bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1985 and was the father of UB student Darren Tolsma, and Jerome D. Krasuski of Cheektowaga, Professional MBA ’07.
A seventh alumnus, Douglas C. Wielinski of Clarence, who received a bachelor’s degree from UB in 1969, died when the plane crashed into his home.
Also among the passengers were David Borner, former FSA employee and manager of Putnam’s, now employed with Kraft Foods; Ellyce Kausner, niece of Ellen L. Kausner, events coordinator at the Law School; and Brad S. Green Sr. of Amherst, father of UB student Brad S. Green.
Speaking on behalf of President John B. Simpson, who was out of town on university business, David L. Dunn, vice president for health sciences, said the UB community grieves for the victims of this terrible tragedy.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones, and we join together with our surrounding communities in sharing our deepest sympathies and offering our support to all those affected,” Dunn said.
“Sadly, we know that members of our own university community have been touched personally by this great loss, and we are reaching out now to these campus community members and their families. Although we don’t yet know the full extent of the losses from this tragedy, UB stands ready to help any campus community members who may have been impacted.”
Dunn said that counselors are available to students on campus 24 hours a day at Counseling Services. After hours, an on-call counselor can be reached by calling University Police at 645-2222 or 2222 from any campus phone.
Faculty, staff, retires and their family members may contact UB’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a free information-and-referral service that offers assistance and support for those impacted by a traumatic event. Immediate assistance is available by calling the 24-hour EAP Helpline at 645-4500 or Deborah Hard, the EAP administrator at 645-5000, x1007.
Des Forges, senior advisor for Human Rights Watch's Africa division, is best known for leading investigations into human rights abuses and genocide in Burundi and Rwanda. She spent four years interviewing both the organizers of the Rwandan genocide and those targeted for extermination. Her 1999 book, “Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda,” increased public awareness of the atrocities in Rwanda and Burundi. She received a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 1999 for her work on Rwanda.
Claude Welch Jr., SUNY Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Political Sciences, was a longtime friend and colleague of Des Forges, who he said he first met many years ago in a freshman German class at Harvard University.
“She impressed everyone with the ease with which she picked up complex languages,” Welch said. “German was a 'snap' compared with others she later mastered, such as Chinese or Kinyarwanda—also a tonal language, spoken through Rwanda. She was an energetic volunteer as an undergraduate, graduating from Harvard with honors in three years. Going to Tanzania the summer before senior year kindled her interest in Africa. “With her linguistic skills, detailed knowledge and ability to testify before international gatherings about injustices being committed in Africa's Great Lakes region, she was continually jetting back and forth between Buffalo, New York, Africa and Europe, where she regularly testified in French about what was 'really happening' on the ground.”
Welch noted that Des Forges’ book, “Leave None to Tell the Story,” provided evidence that was used by the prosecution in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and elsewhere in the global justice system.
“Alison became the global expert on human rights in the African Great Lakes region,” he said. “Her writing was crisp and brief when needed, detailed and sweeping when essential. Interpersonally, she always paid the fullest attention to others, understanding the pains that life can inflict. How sad to have such an accomplished person taken from us long before she should.”
In other crash-related news, several members of the university community have been involved in the response to last night’s plane crash.
University Police officers Christopher M. Kerr, Bruce A. Pepi and Daniel T. Behuniak assisted Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority police in escorting a bus carrying family members of the crash victims from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport to a Red Cross aid center that had been established at the Cheektowaga Senior Center on Broadway, said Gerald Schoenle, chief of University Police. The officers also provided security at the center, where family members were taken for debriefing and counseling, Schoenle said.
University Police were joined by officers from the NFTA, Cheektowaga, Depew and West Seneca police departments and U.S. Border Patrol in the response effort, he said.
Schoenle noted that protocols exist at the county level governing mutual aid in times of emergency. University Police respond on a regular basis to mutual-aid requests from surrounding police agencies, in particular from Amherst and Buffalo police, he added.
Also assisting in the response was James Reger, emergency planning manager for Environmental Health and Safety Services. Reger, a member of a local trauma team that assists first responders, spent most of the night at the crash site, providing support to firefighters.
Five to 10 graduate forensic anthropology students are working to help identify the remains of crash victims of Flight 3407. They are divided between the crash site and the Erie County medical examiner’s facilities.
The students are working under the direction of the medical examiner and Joyce Sirianni, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences.