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Sunday, September 11, 2016

In Fifteen Years...

I know, I've updated once already today. But this is a different post.

On this date, fifteen years ago, the United States experienced a series of terror attacks so horrible know what, I don't even have the words to describe it.

I was in my 4th year of college in Decorah, Iowa, home of Luther College. When I came back from my morning shower, my roommate had the TV on to one of the news stations. I was a bit confused because she wasn't one to watch TV in the morning (or ever, really) so I asked her what movie she was watching (because, seriously, that had to be a movie).

She shook her had and said, "It's not a movie; this is live from New York City."

I was still in a towel and we just stood there, not really sure what we should be doing, if anything. At that point, only the first tower of the World Trade Center had been hit, meaning it was somewhere between 7:45 and 8:05am (because we were on Central time and New York is on Eastern time so there's an hour time difference).

After what seemed like forever, though it was probably less than 5 minutes, the second tower was hit. We watched it happen from 1,100 miles away, unable to do anything.

I don't remember getting dressed that morning. Or getting breakfast. Or even if I got breakfast. I do remember sitting in my first morning class, the Ethics of Lying with Storm Bailey, which was most likely a 9am class because there was no reason I would have been up that early for a class at 10:30am. We gave up our actual lesson for that day, discussing what was going on in the world, specifically our country, a few people saying they had reached relatives and friends that were in that area, others saying they had not. There were lots of tears, lots of hugs, and a lot of discussion about what we could do (either in the now or in the near future).

I remember someone coming into our classroom, either a police officer or someone from one of the administration offices that were housed in the same building, telling us all, including our professor, to grab our stuff, evacuate the building, and go to the Luther Bell (it's a bell that's kind of in the middle of campus). We were confused but followed directions; we assumed it had something to do with everything going on in New York City (and everything attached to that, obviously).

We weren't entirely wrong.

The entire campus had been evacuated out of buildings, including instructors/professors, all administration offices, everyone working for facilities, everyone working for food service, everyone on campus was outside at the Luther Bell. The college president addressed the entire campus. He first talked about what was happening in New York City, and by that point, also the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. He then told us why we were all outside, because it wasn't just for a campus Prayer Circle (which did happen): the campus had received a bomb threat of it's own. As a result, every building on campus, every office, every closet, every rehearsal room, bathrooms, everything had to be searched...including outside. We were advised to go directly to campus police if we had seen something within the 12-24 hours that seemed very out of the ordinary, a backpack that hadn't moved, things moved around to strange places, people you didn't recognize (which would have been fairly easy to spot - you get into a routine and you see the same people, plus it was a small college (only about 4,000 students total)), people acting in peculiar ways, etc.

Because it was bomb threat, no one was allowed to go back to dorms (sans the few that were forced out of showers - they were allowed to go back with someone from campus police to, basically, get dressed, grab their keys/ID, and come back out), we weren't allowed to go get food in the caf, nothing. We were all expected to stay outside until further notification, which turned out to be a full campus evacuation. Seriously, we all had to leave campus and go.....somewhere. Thankfully, September in Decorah is usually pretty nice so most people got into cars and went to get food, wander Walmart, go to the bluffs, go anywhere, just to get away and reflect.

After a campus-wide prayer session, a friend of mine had called her grandmother, who lived within sight of the college campus, and basically said, "hey, can a bunch of us come over to watch the news and order pizza?" and, of course, grandma was more than happy to have a gaggle of girls in her house for a few hours.

I think there were probably 10 of us, at most. We piled into a couple cars, mine included, and off we went. We watched the news. Some of us hadn't heard much about the Pentagon or the crash in Pennsylvania (and at that time, it was surmised that the initial target was either the Sears Tower in Chicago or the US Capitol - turns out it was the latter). We watched the news, wondering what we were going to do. Grandma let the few of us with family or friends in New York make phone calls, long distance (because land lines were a thing and cell phones were not), to find out what was happening, if everyone was accounted for, if they were "safe" (meaning as safe as they could be when Lower Manhattan was crashing all around).

We were there for a few hours. We could see campus from the driveway and when we noticed an influx of vehicles, we decided we could go back to campus. Classes were, of course, cancelled that day. There were still guards around campus and we had to flash our IDs to get back on campus but all the buildings had been searched and nothing had been found, the grounds of campus had been searched and nothing had been found. Basically, the bomb threat was crap but given everything else that had been going on that day, it had to be taken even more seriously.

In the end, the campus had received six bomb threats. Yeah, SIX. The first two were on September 11th and 12th. There were four more received at the end of October. The last four were directed toward various buildings on campus, and like the initial one on September 11th, nothing was found.

I don't know if anyone had ever been caught in connection with the bomb threats.

I couldn't tell you names now, but I know there were friends and acquaintances of mine that had family and/or friends in New York City and, as far as I recall, everyone had been accounted for. Students studying at other colleges (study abroad, internships, etc.) were accounted for.

I remember the next few days were a mess. Most classes went completely off syllabus, for obvious reasons. We needed to talk about it. We needed to reflect. Many needed to pray (not me; not the religious type).

When it came out that the people responsible were Islamist extremists, we started asking our (admittedly small) Muslim student population for answers, to which, of course, they didn't have. They were as shocked and confused as the rest of us. Looking back on it, it was 100% not fair to them but when you're running around like a chicken with your head cut off, scared of your own shadow, you don't care which person you piss off, really.

So, that was my story from September 11, 2001.

The scary thing: this is the first year that high school freshmen will learn about that date as 100% history, for they were not alive for it.

1 comment:

  1. This is some experience. I hate that your campus had a bomb threat. But I'm glad there was so much solidarity and support. I was teaching at that time and the staff was in the office watching the news coverage. It felt surreal, total disbelief. We had to make sure students went home and were picked up and that none were on campus. I ended up hanging out with two friends that day who were working at Wells Fargo and was dismissed for the day. My brother's company at the time lost some employees who had a floor in a Twin Tower.