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CYBURBIA

Tribute to a Girl Gone Too Soon

December 31, 1996|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ana Duarte-Coiner's home page doesn't look, at first glance, much different than that of any other 12-year-old, Net-savvy kid.

There's a picture of her practicing the piano and one at her computer, with a U.S. map and jampacked bulletin board visible on a nearby wall. And there are plenty of links to friends and messages that mention her many interests, including choral singing, reading, softball and ballet.

But Ana did not create this site. It was put together by her online friends--none of whom she ever met in person--as a tribute and a memorial. Ana and her mother, who lived in Binghamton, N.Y., were among the passengers on their way to Paris on TWA Flight 800 when it exploded and crashed off Long Island in July.

"I just know that I have to do it--write as much as I can, remember as much as I can, so I can try to make sense of what happened," wrote Andrea Norstad, 15, in an essay about her friend posted to the Web site.

Andrea was one of the regulars on the newsgroup, alt.kids-Talk, where Ana met most of her online friends. "God, it's as if writing this all down is making it real," Andrea wrote. "Good. So I'll write. And you will all just have to deal."

Ana's friends belong to the first generation to look upon computers as a comfortable, everyday form of communication. It is therefore no surprise that in addition to trading information, gossiping, flirting and arguing online, it's also where they go to mourn.

"And then there's everyone who I tell the story to, they all act sorry, but they don't know what it's like," wrote Ryan Freebern, 16, who took the initiative in putting the tribute page on the Web.

"I've been conditioned into not crying . . . instead I have this nameless ache that pounds inside me tirelessly and makes me feel so bad, yet there's nothing I can do to stop it."

Their remembrances (the site is http://www.Capital.net/users/mfree) portray a girl who was extremely bright (and knew it), gushingly enthusiastic, protective of her online buddies and endlessly curious.

When exchanging messages with Ana, wrote Debbie Wu, "It was too easy to be silly and goofy and laugh and use exclamation marks. She knew things, and I don't mean secrets, although I bet she knew more than anyone else did. She knew life."

The site offers much more than the heartfelt remembrances. There are links to news about the Flight 800 investigation, to other pages created in tribute to crash victims, and to information about scholarship funds set up in honor of Ana and her mother.

*

But perhaps the most affecting section contains Ana's own words. There you can find the more than 300 messages--some only a few words long--that Ana wrote during the time she was online.

Her combined words are a kind of diary, but not that of someone in extraordinary conditions, such as Anne Frank or an explorer. The power of her words is in their ordinariness. Ana was someone who had her whole life before her.

"Look at 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (my absolute favorite play)," she wrote to a correspondent who claimed Shakespeare was depressed. "He probably was nuts, but his writings weren't all gloomy."

"I'm going to kill that boy!" she wrote about a friend, "because he almost makes me feel inferior."

There are several references to her upcoming vacation to Europe and how excited she was about it. And even though she usually tried to act mature, sometimes the little girl came through strong.

"I talked to, like, a really really really famous person on national TV!" she gushed after getting through to talk show guest Coolio, the rapper. "And he talked back! And Tom Snyder commented about me!!!"

It was her last posting to alt.kids-Talk.

* Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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