Nacogdoches Becomes Center for Search

They just keep coming. DPS Troopers, the National Guard, reporters and tourists are all looking for things like the four foot section of Space Shuttle Columbia which lies undisturbed in a field south of Nacogdoches. They're also searching for fuel cells, like the three foot sphere found in the woods by a woman riding on an ATV.

"This debris may not be located for weeks, months or years and we can't pinpoint that," said Sheriff Thomas Kerss during a press conference Monday afternoon. "Debris may never be found as far as we know."

While the search for new debris continues, the process of cataloging the remains has just begun. At Douglas I.S.D., the grounds were littered with tiny shards. Unfortunately, collectors beat NASA to some of them. Superintendent Lowell McCuistion noticed the stolen shrapnel Monday morning. "Four or five pieces about an inch in diameter are missing this morning and in two of the spots, they left a penny."

Doris Berry has two metal scraps in her yard. One is about seven inches long, flat, and stained white from the heat. The other is a foot long metal piece with holes where rivets used to be. Berry showed deputies both pieces late Saturday night. But as of Monday, the piece rests where it was found, 3 inches from her home, untouched, unmarked and unguarded.

In Nacogdoches, the reminders are everywhere. At Stephen F. Austin University, a memorial created in 1993 for the victims of the Challenger explosion now honors both crews. And downtown, in a bank parking lot where debris was collected, there's a new discovery. A makeshift memorial full of flowers, and tears and prayers and poems spreads out beneath the yellow Sheriff's Department crime scene tape. Visitors from Houston, Waco, Denver, and Albuquerque stop to look. They take pictures and read the cards and feel a little closer to the seven astronauts who fell from the skies.

So now, there are two searches. One is a hunt for pieces. The other is a quest for peace.

Stephen Parr, reporting.