I remember riding the bus home thinking it had to be a mistake, or an awful joke of some kind. Things like that didn't happen. There was a teacher on board, for goodness' sake, not just astronauts. Why would the principal say something like that when it couldn't possibly be true?
I got home to find my mom watching the news and crying. She watched every Shuttle launch live--it was an era of enthusiasm about space and NASA and the US--and I would have too if it hadn't been during the school day. Later, I realized how many kids had seen it live because they watched it in the classroom. That would have been so much worse (and can you imagine the poor teachers having to deal with their own grief and shock plus that of their students?). But just then, I was too busy trying to wrap my eleven-year-old brain around how something so awful had happened.
I do know that this image will never leave my mind, and the loss of innocence it represents is something that I'm sure much of my generation shares.
RIP, Challenger crew.