PEABODY — It's been a little more than 10 years since Christine Barbuto was killed when her American Airlines flight crashed into the World Trade Center in the worst terrorist attack in American history.
But at Peabody Veterans Memorial High, where she graduated in 1986, she has never been forgotten. A brief announcement is made and a moment of silence observed every year on the anniversary of 9/11. There is no tangible reminder of her life, however.
That will soon change.
School officials launched a fundraising drive last Thursday evening to redesign a popular courtyard at the high school and dedicate it in Barbuto's memory. Design and landscaping should happen over the summer, with a dedication planned for October, in time for what would have been Barbuto's 43rd birthday.
"We put her photo on screens around the school and have a moment of silence, but we wanted to do something more permanent," said Jean Marchetti, head of the high school's consumer science department. "In this way, we can remember her and utilize and fix up a part of the school."
How to honor and remember Barbuto was something school officials had been pondering for years, but they'd never come up with a really good idea. Then one day, it came together.
"A few of us were just standing in the offices and it came to us," said Eric Buckley, the assistant principal. "I go by that courtyard 100 times a day, and I said, 'This place really needs some rehab.'"
The courtyard is a popular hangout for students on warm spring days. It has some plants, a few benches, trees and a small patio.
"I think we're going to take it out and start over from scratch," Buckley said.
Andrew Mushrush, a Peabody High grad who owns Down East Landscaping, will donate his equipment and time to do much of the work. Others have stepped up with money and other donations.
It's too early to say how much the new courtyard will cost, Buckley said. All donations will be accepted, and whatever isn't used will be kept in a reserve fund for upkeep of the courtyard. A city bank account is being set up specifically for the project, Buckley said.
Barbuto's mother, Maureen, was a popular Peabody schoolteacher. She died in 1996 of skin cancer.
Those who knew Barbuto are quick to sing her praises.
"She was vibrant and full of life. She always had a huge smile on her face," said Leanne Smyrnios, a friend who graduated high school with her. "She liked everybody and was such a positive force."
Barbuto was captain of the basketball cheerleading squad and was one of the most fashionable people in the school.
"She loved to shop and was not afraid to try new styles," said Keri Kinnaly, another high school friend. "She was the trendsetter. She wanted to be different."
It's not surprising, then, that Barbuto made a career in fashion. She worked as a buyer of women's sportswear for TJX, the parent company of clothing store T.J.Maxx, and had majored in fashion merchandising at the University of Rhode Island.
She never forgot Peabody High. Years after she graduated, she held a prom dress sale at the school cafeteria during her lunch break, selling discounted dresses from Filene's to make it affordable for students, Marchetti said.
Barbuto was on the ill-fated flight with six other buyers for TJX, all women, on their way to California on a business trip. She was 32 at the time.
As elsewhere in the country, students and staff at Peabody High were emotional wrecks that day.
"It was bedlam. Televisions were on, students were watching, we were watching. You thought about the fact that you might know someone (who died)," Marchetti said. "When I heard there were TJX employees on the plane, I knew Christine might have been on that plane."
"It was shocking that day," remembered Principal Ed Sapienza, who was in the middle of teaching a computer programming class when the planes struck. "One of the kids came over and said, 'Mr. Sapienza, you have to see this.' It was just so unbelievable. I called the principal and told him something is going on here. We spent the day watching, both adults and students, in disbelief. It was hard looking around the room and not knowing who had families in New York or on the plane."
Sapienza said he thought it was important for students to see history unfolding, even though it was one of the darker moments in the country's history.
"It was like everything we do here: We tried to turn it into a teachable moment," Buckley said.
That lesson continues.
"Every year on Sept. 11 since I became principal, I have made an announcement to remind the students about Christine," said Sapienza, who had Barbuto in his sophomore math class.
"I always tell the kids to be proud to be a Tanner. I talk about how she was a good athlete, a good student and all-around good lady. Then I ask the kids to take a moment to step back and think about how precious life is. It is important for the kids to stop and understand that."
School officials are collecting donations to design and build the courtyard. If you would like to donate, send a check made out to the City of Peabody, in care of the Christine Barbuto Memorial, and mail to the high school at 485 Lowell St., Peabody, MA, 01960.