|Before the towers fell: this is what I "heard" happened.|
My parents had a similar exchange starter: Where were you when Kennedy was shot? The question you could ask anyone: friend or stranger and it would begin a deep exchange that would lead to a foundation that would be there forever. We have walked through a similar event together. It has changed us both. We are family; we are one.
The question is not meant to be asked to remember a celebration, it was a tragedy when John Kennedy was shot. The young, democratic president was smiling in a parade and then (BAM !) he was gone, taking our hopes with him.
I was not yet a year old when it happened.
Our generation also shares a similar question: where were you when the Twin Towers were hit? Where were you when the Pentagon was hit? Where were you when we saw United Airlines Flight 93 crash and go up in flames in Somerset County, Pennsylvania?
Where were you the morning of September 11, 2001?
I was driving my white GMC minivan, on my way to school. Vince and Alicia, fresh-smelling and dressed in school uniforms, were there with me. I was getting ready to turn the corner to pick up our carpool rider.... and my stupid cell phone started ringing.
Alicia looked at it. “It’s dad,” she said, handing the phone to me.
“Hi,” I said, trying not to sound annoyed. I hated being called when I was driving.
“Where are you?” Mario asked, as he does when things are crazy or there’s been an emergency.
“I’m about to pick up Justin,” I said, “What’s wrong?” Something was definitely wrong. Alicia looked in the back seat at Vince, who remained cool.
“Pull over,” Mario said.
“What??” I said, after I pulled over. Someone must have died. I tried to remain calm, but I was in a hurry, and a little disturbed with the voice Mario had. He knew I had a schedule to keep, and still sounded desperate.
“Someone has bombed the Twin Towers,” he said.
“What!!??” I shouted into the phone. “Again??” Eight years earlier the garage of the Twin Towers was bombed, killing 6 people. Terrorists were always trying to bomb the Trade Center, the Western World’s Business Capital.
“No,” Mario said quieter (it seemed like slow motion). “They flew a plane into Tower two. We thought it was an accident, but then they flew another plane into Tower One.”
I felt my heart stop. I looked at the kids, who were watching me. I repeated what Mario said, even though I was pretty sure they could hear him. They both nodded. Then Alicia said it:
“Also the Pentagaon,” she said.
“What??” I was still on the phone with Mario, but I was now scolding Alicia. “How do you know? Were you watching TV?”
Every time I repeat that last bit I think of how stupid I sounded. Watching TV before school was strictly forbidden in our house, mainly because my kids (like me) were not morning people and were prone to tardiness.
So, while I heard the earth-shattering news, I was reacting to Alicia breaking the house rules. What a moron I was!
“Did they bomb the Pentagon, too?” I asked Mario, using Alicia’s information.
“Yes,” Mario said. He was now distracted by talking. “Janet, I gotta go. Are you going in?” He asked. Mario, under normal circumstances, would have sent me home. He would have met me there, he would have told me to use the TV and keep the phone lines open. Check on elderly neighbors. Not this time.
Mario was calling from the San Francisco Bay area, on a job for the Justice Department working with a police department that needed him. He was making arrangements to get back to Sacramento, where we lived.
It was the first week I had with my own classroom. After following the beloved Mrs. Kittleson (she taught the class for 25 years before I got to Wilton), I had taken over her classroom of primary students: 13 of the most gifted, brilliant kids I had ever met in my life).
It was one of the most exciting times in my life, functioning as a teacher to kids under 10-years-old, their whole lives dependent on what you taught.
What was I supposed to tell them today?
“If you go in,” Mario said, before he disconnected, “stay off the freeway.” The line went silent. I looked down at the phone, and saw that the network dropped my call.
I pulled up to Justin’s house and waited for him, as I phoned the school. The line was busy (of course).
“Let’s just go,” I finally decided. “If the school is closed we’ll just drive back.”
“Why would school be closed?” Vince asked. He acted as if that was a very strange question. I agreed, kind of embarrassed. Why would school be closed?
Getting to school I was relieved to see parents and kids, like normal, dropping off and being dropped off. Parking nightmares; kids lugging backpacks... all normal scenes. I walked to the principal’s office and was intercepted by a student.
“Mrs. Rodriguez!!!” she shouted, “Guess what?” Her face glowed from early morning playground running.
“What?” I answered, in similar cheer.
“I can jump rope up to 100 now! Watch!” She began, quickly, as I attempted to stall her.
“Honey, I have to see Pastor Greenfield, can you show me at recess?” I said, opening the door. She didn’t stop, counting aloud.
I walked in to the office as Janet, the school secretary was writing slips for awaiting students. It was minutes before the first bell.
“What do I do?” I asked her, as soon as the coast was clear. “What do I say? My class is still too little to get into the specifics of what happened. I don’t even know.” I said, panicked.
Janet was nodding, her eyes wide. “I know,” she said, quietly, “Just ask Pastor what he says.”
I was surprised to hear he was in his office. I rushed in. Two other teachers were already in there.
“Mrs. Rodriguez!” he greeted me as if today was any other day. His demeanor was one of strength, not idiocy. Pastor Greenfield (like George W. Bush) was definitely aware today was not like any other day.
“Let your class lead you,” he said. “They will show you if they are troubled, how they need help, what they know, if anything. Make this day as safe as possible. Make it a normal day for them. They need to see that their school is where life is the same as it always is.”
I made my way across the blacktop to my classroom. Students waited outside, but not in such a hurry to go in. The playground was alive with basketball games, jump-roping, swinging, and kids hanging out, talking.
Everywhere I looked I saw normal kids doing normal things. Maybe the world hadn’t changed after all.
Everything was normal. I took roll, we got fruit out for morning recess. We did homework slips, we filled water bottles... and then it was time for prayer. Kasey raised his hand for a prayer request.
“I’d like to pray for the United States,” he said. Kasey was one of the deep kids. He looked sad.
“Okay,”I said. “How many of you know what happened this morning?”
A few raised their hands. They looked a little guilty for knowing. Maybe their mothers also outlawed morning TV.
“Okay, well, this morning, some people took two planes and crashed them into two very tall buildings in New York City,” I began. The class was silent, and their eyes were all wide. Then came the questions....
“Where did they get the planes?” “What happened to the people inside the planes?” “What happened to everyone in the building?” “Who did it?” “Was there a fire?"
I was on very thin ice. What if I told them something their parents didn’t want them to know? What if I scared them? What should I share?
What would Mr. Rogers do?
“It’s important to know,” I continued, “that the news programs on TV will have some very scary images of what has happened today, and you may not want to see all of them. Ask your parents what you should see, and don’t be ashamed to tell them if things scare you. It it also important is to know that you are safe, you are loved and you are protected. Your parents love you, I love you and we are all going to pray that things get better. And they will. Most often, even after things go terribly wrong, we all find a way to get back to normal.”
I’ll never forget the look in their eyes. They believed me.
I had no right to promise all that I did, but I didn’t know what else to say.
The day, after that, progressed like any other school day. My kids even came in during certain times to ask for money. They seemed fine, so like their usual selves.
I was glad when school was over, and I exited the classroom to find Justin’s mom sitting on the bench outside of the classroom. What was she doing here?
“Hi, Janet,” she said, somber-faced. I wanted to make sure you knew I was taking Justin home myself today.”
“Oh, alright,” I said. “You were able to get the afternoon off?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, “I just had to be with my kid.” She walked over to the high school area, in hopes of connecting with Justin. I would follow her shortly to see if my kids may actually want to be seen with me long enough for me to ask them to come home with me (they loved me, but they were typical teens, chatting with friends after school).
It had just occurred to me that I had not checked in with Mario, or anyone else, for that matter, on what else had happened today. I didn’t even know if he got back home.
It turned out that while I was trying to make a normal day for the kids, things were anything but on the outside of the hurricane fencing that surrounded Wilton Christian School.
As I walked to the office from my classroom to call Mario, I saw a man, tall and still in work overalls, yelling at the lead pastor of Wilton Bible church, there in the middle of the playground. I could only catch bits and pieces, but I could tell he was angry about something.
“... and on my way home, I notice that you aren’t even flying the flag at all!! Let alone half-mast!! I’ll never come to this church!! What the.....”
It was just the beginning.
|Wilton Christian School is a small, private Christian school in the southeast|
corner of Sacramento County. Here is a picture of staff and students taken
in the fall of 2002. I am next to the green arrow.
Early on the morning of September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers took control of four commercial airliners en route to San Francisco and Los Angeles after takeoff from Boston, Newark, and Washington, D.C. Planes with long flights were intentionally selected for hijacking because they would be heavily fuelled.
At 8:46 a.m., five hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center's North Tower and at 9:03 a.m. another five hijackers crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower. The South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m. after burning for 56 minutes in a fire caused by the impact of United Airlines Flight 175. The North Tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m. after burning for 102 minutes.
Five hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. A fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93, under the control of four hijackers, eventually crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. after the passengers fought the hijackers. Flight 93's ultimate target is believed to have been either the Capitol or the White House. Flight 93's cockpit voice recorder revealed crew and passengers attempted to seize control of the plane from the hijackers after learning through phone calls that similarly hijacked planes had been crashed into buildings that morning. Once it became evident to the hijackers that the passengers might regain control of the plane, one hijacker ordered another to roll the plane and intentionally crash it.
Three buildings in the World Trade Center Complex collapsed due to structural failure on the same day. Other surrounding buildings were condemned.
All aircraft within the continental U.S. were grounded, and aircraft already in flight were told to land immediately. All international civilian aircraft were either turned back or redirected to airports in Canada or Mexico, and all international flights were banned from landing on U.S. soil for three days. The attacks created widespread confusion among news organizations and air traffic controllers. On September 11, 2001 there were a total of 2,996 deaths, including the 19 hijackers and 2,977 victims. The victims included 246 on the four planes (from which there were no survivors), 2,606 in New York City in the towers and on the ground, and 125 at the Pentagon. All the deaths in the attacks were civilians, except for 55 military personnel killed at the Pentagon.
Over 90% of the workers and visitors who died in the towers had been at or above the points of impact. In the North Tower 1,355 people at or above the point of impact were trapped and died of smoke inhalation, fell or jumped from the tower to escape the smoke and flames, or were killed in the building's eventual collapse. At least 200 people fell or jumped to their deaths from the burning towers landing on the streets and rooftops of adjacent buildings hundreds of feet below.
9/11 is shorthand for September 11th in America, while other countries use the 11/9 (month/date/year). People in America use a telephone emergency system called “911” to signify EMERGENCY or a cry for help.
It is considered the largest terrorist attack in the history of the world.
Thank you to Wikipedia for accurate News Information and detail.