Videos produced by the staff at the Los Angeles Daily News
Parents of Wang Linjia, center, are comforted by parents of some other students who were on the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 when it crashed at San Francisco International Airport, while they gather and wait for news of their children at Jiangshan Middle School in Jiangshan city, in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Sunday July 7, 2013. Chinese state media have identified the two people who died in the plane crash at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday as Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, 16-year-old students at Jiangshan Middle School in China's eastern Zhejiang province. (The Associated Press)
WEST HILLS - West Valley Christian Church leaders said they were shocked and devastated Sunday to learn that the two teens killed in Saturday's plane crash in San Francisco were among about 35 Chinese students planning to attend a three-week academic camp its school was set to host starting Monday.
We're "like stunned and kind of numb," said Rev. Glenn Kirby of West Valley Christian Church between morning services. "We didn't know them, hadn't met them yet, but we can imagine what it's like to lose teenagers and our hearts go out to the families."
While the academic summer camp is run and organized by a third-party and not by the church, the news still hit leaders and the parishioners hard since they were planning to see the students here on Monday. The church's school hosts several such camps for international students a year and church members are sometimes among the host families.
Derek Swales, administrator of West Valley Christian School, said he got a text Saturday from a third-party who is helping to organize the camp about the plane crash while heading back from San Francisco after a July Fourth celebration.
"We were devastated; is this really happening?," Swales told reporters outside the church Sunday. "Our first response was there is now way there are any survivors on that airplane."
Although they'veconfirmed that the two teenage girls who were killed were scheduled to attend the camp, Swales said, "we have no idea how many of the (other) students were burn victims; how many were injured critically."
Earlier Sunday, federal officials identified the two 16-year-olds killed as Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia.
Swales said he understands that camp has been called off in light of the accident and said he completely understands.
"If I was a parent, I'd want to be with my kids. I'd want to come here," to the U.S., he said.
The students were all scheduled to stay with host families within the area so they could attend the camp at their school. The church did not assist with placement of families nor recruit teachers in this case, he said.
"There are a couple of (host) families that are really struggling with this," Swales said, noting that he did not believe any of the families are parishioners of the church. "They're just kind of laying low."
The camp was going to offer English-language and likely American culture classes as well as sight-seeing opportunities for the students in the afternoon, including visiting premiere colleges in the area, Swales said. He said he believed this particular program was a secular one.
"They are exceptional students," Swales said. "These are kids that are very driven academically and their parents are putting a great investment for them to come to America for them to learn the English language" and to encourage them to study in the This group of Chinese high school and possibly middle school students was the first of four groups West Valley Christian School was planning to host this summer, he said. Two other student groups from China and from Korea are scheduled to attend similar programs based at the school in the coming five weeks.
"I hope they don't identify this place as a place that is associated with a tragedy," Swales said. "We believe it will be a great place for people to come in the future and know that they'll be taken care of."
Derek's wife, Michelle Swales, a part-time teacher's aide at the school, said she was deeply saddened over the incident and particularly what the Chinese students on the plane as well as their families have gone through.
"They lost two friends yesterday," she said. "Your heart goes out to them. I wish we could be there to hug them, to love them."
Rev. Kirby said his church is going to open up their worship center at 7 p.m. Thursday for a community prayer for the victims of the crash.
"It will be a prayer meeting and we'll share whatever updates," he said. "We asked our church to pray...and we're also offering an opportunity to give money" to help the students on that plane and their families in some way.
Derek Swales said the money could be used to purchase a "gesture of sorrow for their loss."