9-11: a decade later

  • Written by Deborah Stone
They can tell you where they were when they first heard the news and saw the horrific images that are imprinted in their memories.

"I was at home getting ready to leave for work," says Woodinville resident Doug Sunseri. "While watching the local news, there was ‘Breaking News’ and they switched over to a live ‘Today’ show broadcast. At that time, it was reported that a small plane had crashed into the North Tower. My first thought was that it wasn’t an accident. By the time I got to work, the South Tower had been hit. It was then widely known that we were under attack. I was working in one of the few high rises in Bellevue and there were many people in our office who evacuated the building because they were afraid of the unknown."

Sunseri experienced a range of emotions after the events unfolded. The first was fear. He comments that seeing the country getting attacked made him realize its vulnerability. He says, "It was like seeing your big, strong father, who you always looked to protect you, get beat up. It was scary. But, soon after, my fear turned to anger and despite my age, I was ready to serve and defend our country." The day also made the local resident feel very sad, as three weeks earlier, he and his family had been to New York City and had taken the tour of the Twin Towers, visiting the gift shop and eating in a nearby restaurant. He adds, "I think of all the people who worked there and who we crossed paths with and wondered if they survived." In Sunseri’s opinion, the events initially brought the country together and he rejoiced in the high level of patriotism he saw among people.

"Those were the best days, when politics were put aside and we came together as one common party," he remarks. Today, however, he feels that the country is more polarized politically than previously and that each party has used the events of 9/11 to further their own agendas. He also laments the loss of freedom for citizens. In regards to safety, Sunseri believes that because we are all less naïve now and have our eyes and ears open, we are perhaps safer as a nation than prior to 9/11.

Steven Franz, another local resident, was living in Miami when the attacks occurred. He had just arrived to work at the Port of Miami when he heard the news. He stood in quiet disbelief watching the reports, listening to the reporters try and make sense out of what was happening.

He comments, "I had barely absorbed the horror of the first plane crashing when the second one hit the South Tower. At that point, it was clear to everyone in the room that the U.S. was being attacked." Franz was moved by the heroism of the firefighters and other emergency responders, as well as by the acts of average Americans in the face of terror. He volunteered to travel from Miami to Boston on a 35-hour bus ride to assist with debarkation of one of his company’s cruise ships that was completing a trans-Atlantic voyage. As the bus drove by the Pentagon early in the morning, he saw the building still smoldering and the large American flag waving.

"The entire bus was silent," he comments, "as we all took in the enormity of what had just happened to our nation." Franz feels that 9/11 made people stop and realize how precious freedom is and it inspired a renewed sense of pride for one’s country, as well as a determination to defend the principles upon which it was built. He also believes that the attacks forced Americans to be more in tune with their surroundings, which has helped to create a safer nation.

David Weed, currently a community services officer with Woodinville Fire & Rescue, was a paramedic for Medic One when the events of 9/11 took place. He experienced confusion upon seeing the images on television that morning as he was getting ready for work.

I saw the ash cloud going up and I thought New York was burning down," he explains. "It didn’t cross my mind that there had been an attack." Being a paramedic, Weed’s emotions went out to all the firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty. "Those guys responded to the call, not knowing that it was to be their last day of life," he comments.

Weed also viewed the event as a powerful unifier, but notes that it forever changed the fabric of our society. "Before 9/11 no one would ever think that we would be attacked on our own soil," he says. "After that, we all felt vulnerable." Although many changes have been made to make the country more secure, Weed is unsure of whether it is a safer place now than 10 years ago. He adds, "Yes, we’re getting smarter about security, but so are the terrorists, as they find ways to circumvent the measures we put in place."

Anna Satenstein, a longtime Woodinville resident and therapist, watched in disbelief and sorrow as the images played across her T.V. Immediately, she thought of all the people in the buildings and of her friends living in New York City. Later that afternoon, she meditated with a friend, sending healing prayers for the country. She also went to Seattle Center with her son, where there was a memorial with tributes from those in the area who wanted to express their grief.

"While we were there," she says, "there was a procession of firefighters and police who marched around the fountain. That image and others throughout the week helped me to see through the broken Towers and lives, into a future that builds strength personally and nationally to grow in our lives and develop world community." Prior to 9/11, the synagogue Satenstein attends had been involved in an interfaith dialogue with a Muslim group in Kirkland. She believes that the events underscored the need for such discussion, which still continues today. She tells a story: "When I went to religious services to mark the Jewish New Year, which occurred shortly after 9/11, I saw a flower pot in front of the temple. It was personally addressed to me, another individual and our entire congregation. It was from a Muslim friend. The image of the flowers from my friend and for our community reminded me of a Jewish saying: ‘Even though you cannot fix all the world, that does not excuse you from trying to make it better.’" Satenstein hopes that the U.S. is safer now and that it can move further from a safety that is fear-based to one that is more effective and pro-active.

Brenda Vanderloop remembers 9/11 clearly, as if it just happened. When she heard the news that morning, she didn’t want to scare her nine year-old daughter and tried to downplay the reports, deciding to continue the usual school routine. Her husband was in Olympia preparing for the legislative session. Meetings were quickly cancelled and everyone started for home, opting to stay away from any government buildings. She says, "As our family has always been politically involved and interested in world events, it opened a new door for discussion and reflection on conflict, religious issues and political extremists. As our then nine year-old daughter and teenage son grew older, I believe that we expanded our knowledge through the following ten years to understand the depth of these conflicts and their impact on our lives wherever we are."

East Ridge Elementary sixth grade teacher Kerrie Douglas says the shocking and terrifying images of 9/11 will always remain with her. She still can’t get the picture of people leaping to their deaths from the buildings out of her mind.

"My first thoughts were of those trapped in the Towers and their families," she explains. "My next thoughts were of my family. I wanted to know that they were all safe. Finally, I thought of my students and how important it was for me to pull myself together and to be a support for them at school."

Douglas felt that her students needed to have the opportunity to share their feelings about the event, as a number of them had seen the coverage on T.V. Others, however, knew very little about what had happened. She briefly reviewed the news without going into too much detail, reassuring her class that they were safe. Then, she answered questions that the kids had about their own security. "We talked about how we felt and positive ways we could deal with those feelings," Douglas adds. "We went about our normal routine. We did not watch T.V., but we had ‘feeling’ checks throughout the day. I remember bursting into tears after the kids left at the end of the day. I couldn’t hold it together any longer." Douglas views the attacks as a wake-up call for the country. She feels that Americans had taken their freedom and peaceful existence for granted. Unfortunately, some of that freedom is gone now – in exchange for security. She notes that as a nation we have become much more supportive of the soldiers who risk their lives for this freedom. "One great challenge we still face," she notes, "is how to protect the rights of the many Muslims who have been living peacefully among us."

Karen Diefendorf, editor of the Woodinville Weekly, was actually in New York City on that fateful day. She and her daughter were staying in a hotel in Manhattan. They had come to see the newest member of the family, Diefendorf’s first grandchild. She describes what transpired: "We had just awakened and were watching what we thought was a movie. It soon became obvious that what we were watching was happening just a few blocks from us. The horror of it all only grew worse as we watched papers falling from the Towers, only to be told that there were also people jumping to escape the flames. And then, we saw the second plane hit followed by the collapse of the first Tower We were both speechless and unable to comprehend the enormity of what was happening." Diefendorf and her daughter left the hotel and as they looked down one of the streets, they could see a huge plume of smoke coming from where the Towers had stood just a short time ago. She notes that the people leaving the disaster area walked silently and most appeared to be in shock. Instead of the normal cacophony of street noise, there was an eerie silence. It had been Diefendorf’s plan to travel to Brooklyn that day where her son, daughter-in-law and new granddaughter lived, but there was no way to get there, as the subway and the Brooklyn Bridge had both been shut down. "That afternoon," she says, "we were able to contact most of our friends who worked in the Towers and thankfully they were OK. We were also grateful that my son, who had worked in one of the Towers, had recently been laid off and was safely at home with his family." Diefendorf finally made it to Brooklyn the next day once the subways reopened.

She comments that as they passed the stops for the Twin Towers, the smell of smoke and toxic fumes was overwhelming and sobering. More sadness came when she heard that firefighters from the station near her son’s apartment had been among the first responders many of the men and women were lost.

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