LOS ANGELES (AP) — —
ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) — They were seemingly ordinary tweets from two friends hanging out on a railroad bridge in their hometown, enjoying one last summer night together before heading back to college.
"Drinking on top of the Ellicott City sign," read one. "Looking down on old ec," read another. Accompanying photos showed their view from the bridge and their bare feet, one with painted blue toenails, dangling over the edge.
Minutes after those messages were sent, a CSX freight train loaded with coal barreled down the tracks and derailed, killing the 19-year-old women and toppling railcars and coal on the streets below.
Investigators were still trying to figure out what caused the derailment. It appeared the women were sitting on the edge of the bridge as the train passed a few feet behind them, Howard County police said. At some point, the train derailed and the women's bodies were found buried under coal.
It wasn't clear whether the woman's presence on the tracks had anything to do with the derailment.
Killed were Elizabeth Conway Nass, a student at James Madison University in Virginia and Rose Louese Mayr, a nursing student at the University of Delaware.
The railroad is easily accessible from picturesque downtown Ellicott City and generations of young people have played and partied along the tracks. The railroad was completed in 1830 and crosses over Main Street in the city's historic district, following the route of the nation's first commercial railroad, according to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum.
"We grew up running on those tracks," said Ellicott City native Bridgette Hammond, 25. "It's actually really beautiful up there."
Nass and Mayr graduated from Mt. Hebron High School in Ellicott City and planned to finish college in 2014, according to their Facebook pages.
One of Nass' sorority sisters, Donya Mossadeghi, called her "a joy to talk to" and someone who "would never say a bad thing about anybody." Nass made the dean's list in the fall in the fall of 2010 and 2011, according to a university spokesman.
Tori Mace, of Ellicott City, knew Mayr through mutual friends. "She was really fun, really friendly," Mace said. Another college friend said Mayr loved to dance and joined a dance group at the school.
A person who answered the telephone at Nass' home declined to comment, as did a family member who answered the phone at a number listed for the Mayr family.
The pictures and the tweets from Mayr were no longer publicly available Tuesday afternoon, but friends confirmed they were hers and police said they were aware of the posts and looking into them.
Residents described hearing the derailment. Jill Farrell, who lives across the street from the tracks, said she heard what sounded liked squealing brakes and then a crash, followed by silence.
Benjamin Noppenberger was getting ready for bed when he and his wife heard what sounded like gunshots. They waited about 10 minutes before going outside.
"We could see all the cars that fell over. I just saw catastrophe," he said.
CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said that the train was traveling from Grafton, W.Va., to Baltimore. It had two train operators, who were not harmed.
Jim Southworth, investigator in charge for the NTSB, declined to speculate on a possible cause. He said the train was equipped with video recording devices that investigators will review to help them determine what happened. He said the train was going about 25 miles per hour but would not say whether that was an appropriate speed limit for the area.
The train had two locomotives, was 3,000 feet long and weighed 9,000 tons, he said.
Environmental officials also responded. About 100 pounds of coal the train was carrying spilled into a tributary of the Patapsco River, a major Maryland waterway that parallels the tracks. Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman Jay Apperson said much more coal lay along the edge of the tributary, raising concerns it could boost the acidity of the water or otherwise threaten aquatic life. The agency will direct CSX's environmental consultant to test the tributary for pollutants, Apperson said.
Eric Weiss, an NTSB spokesman, said investigators will be on the scene for several days, possibly a week. Weiss says he does not know how long it will take to clear the tracks.
The derailment damaged some of Verizon's equipment, disrupting land-line telecommunications services to clients, including some government customers.
The problems reached all the way to the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where pretrial hearings were delayed for a day for five men charged with orchestrating and aiding the Sept. 11 attacks because files on government servers were temporarily unavailable.
Gresko reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat in Ellicott City, David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., and Karen Mahabir in Washington contributed to this report.