Area scouts touring London at time of terrorist attacks

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    WEST MILFORD—Lucky for 18 year-old Jolene Florio, no one bent the rules. It was July 7 -- her first full day in London, and Buckingham Palace was at the top of the morning's agenda. After saving for more than a year and a half, she and three other girls from the Lenni-Lenape Girl Scout Council had arrived with their two chaperones and they were ready to see the sights. But, at the King's Cross station they were turned away because tickets weren't good until 9:30. It was only 9:10, so they decided to use the time by walking to the next tube station. By the time they got there, all public transportation was at a standstill. Four suicide bombers had detonated their charges and put their dreadful mark on what should have been an ordinary Thursday. The six, who at first were told there was an electrical problem in the subway, made their way back to where they were staying and watched events unfold on television. "The strangest thing was how calm the people were. There was absolutely no panic -- lots of people just walked to work and continued their day." According to Jolene's mom Nancy, that calm apparently didn't stretch across the pond. In fact, Nancy was frantic to hear from her daughter and as the day wore on, the anxiety increased. She called the embassy and the American Red Cross. Meanwhile, Jolene had emailed her parents. But Nancy doesn't use the computer, so it wasn't until the afternoon when she called her husband that she found out Jolene was safe. Since that enormous relief, Nancy has decided maybe learning how to do a few things on the computer might not be such a bad idea. "This proves one thing," she says. "Every single day is a gift." Jolene, 18, who lives in Hewitt, was with fellow scouts Shannon Fitzgerald, 16, also of West Milford, Christine Edwards, 16, of Blairstown and Cindy Schottanes, 14, of Allendale. They were being chaperoned by Blanche Bender of Highland Lakes and Michele Pietrowski of Pompton Plains. Their trip was to include a couple days in and around London, a tour of Stonehenge, Bath, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. They never made it to Stonehenge, but they picked up their itinerary when they went to Bath. "Everyone was very hesitant about getting on the train," Florio said, "but taking the bus from London to the train was nerve-wracking." Many people going through the same experience might decide that international travel is not for them. But Jolene is a more adventurous sort. She's hoping to go to Rome, feels she still has some sightseeing to do in London, and briefly mentioned Germany. According to her mother, she's always been willing to try new things. A year and a half ago when she was a junior in high school, Jolene was on the reality show "Switched." The premise was that teens would exchange households for a week. She went to California and stayed with actor Christopher Atkin (of "Blue Lagoon" fame), while Atkin's daughter Brittany stayed in West Milford. Florio said she had watched the show a few times and "just happened across an internet application." She sent it along with a video to the show and before long was packing her bags. She also snapped up an opportunity to go to Houston, Texas with her scout troop. As this interview ended, she was headed to her computer to write a note to Oprah figuring, hey -- she might be interested in my experience. Jolene is a 2005 West Milford High School graduate. She has earned her gold star rank in scouts, is the recipient of several scholarships and plans to go to college to study animation. She is spending the rest of her summer working as a lifeguard, giving swimming lessons and teaching lifeguard classes.