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Mercersburg goes all out for 'Hometown hero'

Written by David Barr, Public Opinion Online | Mar 19, 2016 9:25 AM
reese 1.jpg

Teachers unfurl a banner they designed Thursday, March 17, 2016 in front of Mercersburg Elementary School to celebrate the return of student Reese Burdette. Reese was severely injured in a fire and has spent the last two years at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. (Photo: Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)

(Mercersburg) -- Hundreds of Mercersburg residents crowded downtown Mercersburg on Friday afternoon to welcome home one of their own, Reese Burdette.

The town's streets were decorated with purple ribbons, bows, signs, and balloons proclaiming the town's love for Reese. Several were wearing different purple outfits in honor of Reese. Purple was chosen because that is Reese's favorite color.

Reese had spent nearly two years in Johns Hopkins Hospital, recovering from burns and other injuries suffered in a fire in the spring of 2014. She was finally able to come home Friday and she received a hero's welcome upon her arrival.

"We want to celebrate all that she's accomplished and all the effort she's put into her recovery. We want to show her how much we're behind her. It's great to see the community come together," Kimberly Oberholzer said.

Preparations for Reese's arrival began on Wednesday and Thursday. Purple ribbons, bows, streamers, signs, and decorations were created, drawn, painted, colored, assembled, and displayed in anticipation of Reese's arrival two days after everything was created.

Reese's dance studio, Miss Dicey's School of Dance were putting the final touches on their banner outside the studio Friday morning that was displaying the messages "Welcome Home Reese!" and "We Love You!"

Reese's dance teacher, Dicey Higgins, said that Reese began attending the studio when she was three or four years old and she spent three years learning at the studio.

"I'm blessed with the challenge to work with a child with a prosthetic. I'm honored at the responsibility," Higgins said.

Victoria Mickley had a small artificial tree decorated with small purple ornaments, bows, and ribbons, and had it topped off with a tiny stuffed purple bunny. Mickley and her grandchildren spent Thursday night decorating the tree and Mickley had it outside on the sidewalk several hours prior to Reese's arrival. Mickley said that she prayed every day for Reese and her family.

"I wish them the best. I wish God is with her every step of the way. She's a wonderful little girl," Mickley said.

Members of the MMPW Volunteer Fire Company were the ones escorting Reese from Montgomery Elementary School through town past Mercersburg Elementary School, and finally home. Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Main called it "an honor" for their company to be the ones to escort Reese.

"We're excited to see her coming home. We're glad she's coming home," Main said.

reese car.jpg

Reese Burdette waves at her Mercersburg Elemenatary School classmates as she is escorted through Mercersburg, Friday, March 18, 2016. Reese was returning to Mercersburg following two years as a patient at Johns Hopkins Children's Hospitals Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in Baltimore. She suffered burns during a 2014 fire. Reese was in the car with family members, including her mother Claire Burdette, right.  (Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)

Escorted by firetrucks through town, Reese arrived at 12:39 p.m.to a roaring crowd cheering and clapping and celebrating her. Reese was initially supposed to have an escort throughout her entire trip home from the hospital, but Reese nixed that idea, asking for only one small entourage for her journey home.

After a drive through town, Reese's entourage made its way to Reese's school, Mercersburg Elementary at 1 p.m., where she was greeted by more residents and her friends and classmates.

Having waited for over 15 minutes for Reese to arrive, the young crowd was already whipped into a frenzy chanting "We want Reese".  Their shrieks and cheers rivaled the police and fire sirens when Reese and her escort finally arrived. They showered Reese's car with confetti and chants of "We love you Reese" as she waved to everyone on the sidewalk.

Among the crowd at the school was Jami, Colton, and Kaleigh Hartman. The Hartmans are friends with Reese's family and Kaleigh and Reese are friends in school. Kaleigh was "really happy" to see her friend come home because "she's been in the hospital so long and I miss her."

"I'm so thankful that she's able to come home," Reese's teacher, Jaime Pine, said.

"It's amazing. I want to cry," said Kathleen Forney, Reese's first grade teacher. "She was in my class when she was injured in the fire. I went to the hospital twice to see her. Her strength and determination are amazing."

Reese's grandparents watched from across the street.

"We prayed and prayed for this," said Nina Burdette, Reese's grandmother. "I spent half my life with her (while she was in the hospital.) It's wonderful to have Justin, Clair, Brinkley and Reese to be able to have their first family meal around the kitchen table in two years. Today is just unbelievable."

"This community has been wonderful," said Jim Burdette, Reese's grandfather. "The agriculture community has been wonderful. It's unbelievable the outpouring that we saw."

"This shows how the community of Mercersburg is a family and how we support our own," Dr. Charles Prijatelj, Tuscarora School District superintendent said.

David Barr, 717-262-4752

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between Public Opinion Online and WITF. For more photos of this event, visit Public Opinion Online

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