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  • District employees share their 9/11 experiences

    Ashlie Crosson, high school English teacher

    I was in seventh grade study hall with Mr. Aultz. He came in and told everyone to sit down. He never talked so seriously, so we knew something bad had happened. He turned on the TV and we watched the coverage. We saw the second plane hit live. Every class I went to had TVs on that day; teachers completely stopped teaching because nothing else felt important. They were in disbelief – none of them really knew how to react, and definitely hadn't processed how to talk to us about it yet. 

    I remember one of my classmates saying, "look at all that paper!" as debris fell from the buildings, but I also remember whispering to myself, "that's not all paper." I had realized people were jumping because they had no other escape. I had no concept of what was occurring or why the locations had been targeted because nothing like this had happened in my lifetime; my adolescent brain genuinely feared that planes were going to hit my school or my church or my mom's work at any moment.

    Sept. 11 taught me a new vocabulary word – that's the day I learned what terrorism was. I am always shocked and especially saddened when I talk to this generation of students about 9/11. None of them were born yet, and so their entire lives have been nothing but a post-9/11 world. I feel like America changed in an instant that day, and there's this innocence and carefreeness that today's students will never know because since that day, the threat of attack has never left the forefront of our country's collective mind. I hope though, that as they grow and learn more about the United States and the world, their ideas of diplomacy, foreign relations and cultural differences will evolve. There's more to this world than good guys and bad guys, and while some wounds may never completely disappear, there is always something to be gained by helping them heal.

    Roseann Eyer, para-educator at Marion-Walker Elementary School

    I was on my way to fire safety training at my job with the ARC of Centre County. When I walked in, the gentleman that was conducting the training said, "I will not be talking today. This is what a real fire looks like." As we turned on the television, the second plane hit the second tower. We all sat there watching for hours. It was emotional to sit there. 

    Leslie Elder, administrative assistant to the superintendent

    I was working at the middle school. It was a normal morning, or as normal as it gets at a middle school, when my husband called. Andy was at home that morning as he had not gone to work yet. He was telling me that something odd had happened – a plane had hit one of the twin towers. As we were discussing how strange this was and if it was an accident or what could have been the cause, the second plane hit. I remember us both getting quiet on the phone and saying, "this is no accident." Of course, news spread quickly throughout the school. Everyone was in shock. Later that day after the (fourth) plane went down in Shanksville (Stonycreek Township, Pa.), parents began coming into the school to pick up their children. They were afraid for their children's safety.  

    The next day was another difficult day. There was a bank robbery in Bellefonte. The school had to be locked down. It was scary for all of us. Then I realized that the person who did the robbery lived in my development in Pleasant Gap. The children in my neighborhood, including my own, were not allowed to take the bus home from Pleasant Gap Elementary. The bus was not permitted into the development. Police had it blocked off because the robbery suspect was barricaded in his house at the end of our street. I finally reached my husband who was able to get our kids from school and take them home. Our daughter, who was only 6, was very scared and worried. I remember how eerie it was that night. The sky was so quiet with no planes, and the street was so quiet with no cars. It was a feeling I never want again.

    Shea Hazel, first-grade teacher at Marion-Walker Elementary School

    I was in biology class at Bellefonte Area High School with Mr. (Arlin) Roth when a student said they had heard something had happened at the Pentagon. We kept going with our normal biology class. The next period for me was ninth-grade history with Coach Gravish and we sat in the dark room watching TV – the planes flying into the buildings – in shock.

    Michael Maney, high school social studies teacher

    I was a junior in college at Lock Haven University. At this time, I was sitting my state and local government met course. The class was Tuesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Today, we know the first tower was hit approximately 8:46 a.m. and the second tower around 9:03 a.m. Interestingly, today, we would probably get an alert on our phones within minutes if an event like 9/11 were to happen in 2018. Since I had been in my college class when the twin towers were hit, no one in my class knew of anything. For me, class ended at 9:15 a.m., and I was walking around campus, finally able to hear bits and pieces of what had happened. When I got to my house, I turned on the TV and started to watch the news. All I could think about was chaos. Since these events seemed to be happening all over and you heard about all planes being grounded, I assumed it was happening all over the country.

    I started to reach out to family and friends. One of the first people I called was my mom. Also, to give you an idea about different things at the time, I sent out messages on AIM/AOL (instant messenger) to family and friends. Then, I heard about the plane crash in Pennsylvania. It was unsure the exact location. My dad was working in construction near Shanksville. My mom had called back to let me know she had been trying to get ahold of my dad, but she hadn’t heard from him. Again, cell phones weren’t as popular as they are today in 2018. We did not believe the plane went down where he was working, however, there was a lot of uncertainty and a lot seemed to be happening fast. It took a few hours until we were finally able to get a hold of him. Until we did, we all had been stressing until we knew he was safe. For the remaining portion of the day, a lot of classes were cancelled. I wrestled at LHU and we had begun our preseason preparation, but afternoon practices and games were cancelled for the day. A few days back, I reflected on the events, and it hit me like a "wow" moment – man, time flies; 9/11 happened 17 years ago already. Seemed like we just recognized the 10th anniversary.

    Brit Milazzo, public relations director

    I was a freshman in high school about 15 minutes northwest of Rochester N.Y. where I grew up. I should have been in social studies class with teacher Marc Fleming. Instead, I was in the library sitting on the couch with library aide Sue Hasenauer and watching the big box TV in the back corner of the library. That’s when it went to a live broadcast of the events unfolding. It soon hit me that it wasn't a hoax as many of my peers first believed. My hometown of North Greece, N.Y. is about 400 miles from New York City, but when reality sank in, many students wondered if other places in the state would be impacted. The tourist town of Niagara Falls, N.Y. is nearby that may be small in population, but attracts millions of people daily. How about Canada? Our town borders another country and a major city like Toronto can be seen from across Lake Ontario. Could those have been targets, too? Our young minds didn’t know.

    It wasn’t until I got home later that day that I better understood the gravity of the situation and heard more stories of what people were doing during the 9/11 attacks. My parents’ experience was unique. Each year my dad climbs a ladder to the top of our house and hangs a huge American flag. It stays up from about Memorial Day through Labor Day. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 before my dad went to work, he climbed the ladder to take down that flag, but didn’t fully get to it when my mom raced outside and said, “don’t take down the flag; we’ve just been attacked.” She was in the kitchen on the phone with a friend who told her to quickly turn on the news. That’s when she saw what was happening and alerted my father to keep up the flag to show pride in our country.

    Kat Momenzadeh, 10th-grade English teacher

    My experience with 9/11 was a lot different than most. I was in eighth grade and a practicing Muslim at the time – wearing a (head-covering) hijab that made it super obvious that I was. After the initial shock of the event, where most Americans remember a feeling of solidarity and unity to support their country, I remember being made the dangerous "other." Students chanted "bomb the Muslims" during the pledge to the flag; my dad, an American citizen who emigrated from Iran, began getting pulled over on his morning commute for "suspicious behavior;" and my sisters and I were called a range of horrible names such as, "half breed terrorists" and "towelheads." At one point, a boy – an upperclassmen and physically much bigger than me – shoved me into a locker and told me to go back where I came from. I was born in Pennsylvania at the hospital a few blocks away from my school. My parents are both American citizens. This was where I was from!

    With the full support of my parents, my sisters and I decided that it was unsafe to continue wearing a hijab in school. We were lucky that, being half white (my mom is of Welsh and German heritage and the third generation in her family to live in the U.S.), without the hijab we looked more "ethnically ambiguous," so we just let people assume we were whatever heritage they assigned to us – usually Latina or vaguely Mediterranean. I know a lot of people, my dad among them, who were not that lucky and spent years defending their right to exist in a country that blamed all brown people for the actions of extremists.  

    Michelle Saylor, superintendent

    I was teaching one of my English classes at Millville Junior/Senior High School, part of a small rural district about 90 miles northeast of State College. We had the TV on for a morning broadcast – I honestly can't remember why – when the news broke. My students saw the live attack on the second tower. It was a very emotional experience as several of my students had family who worked in New York and within the twin towers. News then came on the TV regarding the crash in Shanksville (Stonycreek Township, Pa.); it was sketchy and confusing at first – reporters only new that a plane went down outside of Pittsburgh. At the time, my middle child was attending the University of Pittsburgh. Since we knew little about the actual location I tried calling her. Due to the increased activity on the phone lines, we were unable to get through to check on her safety. It was a scary time until word came that Flight 93 went down in a field about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.  

    For my classes, it was a teaching moment. It was also a point in time that brought all of us together as we supported each other while we waited to hear from our families regarding their safety. Students shared their emotions – we cried together; we talked about history, the state of the world, human behavior, fear and how this event would change lives – not only our lives and the lives of those we cared about, but also the lives of people around the world. We talked about how this tragic event would change not only how we looked at the world, but also how the world viewed us. We talked about what this meant for our country, for our people, and for our attitudes and behaviors.  

    I will never forget where I was when the terrorist attacks occurred; I will forever look at the world a bit differently, but I will not let it change the way I experience life or relationships.  

    Mike Wilson, driver education and training teacher

    I am in my 18th year of teaching at Bellefonte Area High School. When 9/11 happened, I was a new teacher out of college, teaching health and physical education at the high school. My office was in the boy's locker room at the time and we had a TV on a cart with just the basic channels. I shared an office with Mr. Miller and he was an itinerant health and physical education teacher then. We also started school after Labor Day, so it was near the end of my first week of school.

    Originally, we were set up for outdoor PE that morning. We went outside for first and second periods. Right before third period was about to commence, the school went on lockdown, but we didn't really know why at the time. We know now that Flight 93 was passing overhead in the skies, only to crash in Shanksville (Stonycreek Township, Pa.). A plane had also struck the Pentagon, and afterwards we found out it claimed the life of Bellefonte's own Jonas Panik. The first plane was already into the towers in NYC. I was in my office deciding what to do with my class coming in, as we had to stay indoors. Mr. Miller came into the office with an uneasy look about him. I asked what was wrong and he said, “have you heard the news?” I said, “no, but we are on lock down!” He said, “turn on the TV,” and we did. When the TV warmed up and we tuned in the channel, we saw the second plane go into the tower. I thought it was a replay of the first plane, but unfortunately, it was the second plane!

    I honestly felt sick to my stomach and couldn't believe what we were witnessing. I had been involved in the fire service previously in high school and college, and after 9/11, I went right back into volunteering once again. I think everyone sort of rallied behind one another, especially here in Bellefonte, and the American spirit and resolve had been greatly challenged. There was a definite mood switch felt here at the high school, and everyone proceeded through the year with a great deal more caution and suspicion. I am still in the fire service today, and I love to be involved with the community in which I live and teach.

    Jackie Wynkoop, secondary literacy coach

    I was a junior in college at the time at the University of Maryland. I distinctly remember walking into my first class of the morning to complete chaos. The TV was on – this was before everyone had cell phones – and many classmates were crying. Our professor explained what was happening and told us all to go home and stay safe. Being so close to the Pentagon in Washington D.C., all UMD classes and events were canceled for the day. My best friend and I met up and walked back to our apartment in disbelief. We just couldn't believe what was happening. When we arrived home, we spent the entire rest of the day watching the news in absolute horror. How could something like this happen? Because of the chaos happening around D.C., it was next to impossible to travel to be with our families. So, all three of my roommates and I huddled together and prayed – prayed for those who had lost their lives; prayed for those who had lost loved ones; prayed for America; prayed for peace.

    The following day, Sept. 12, we all attended a memorial service on the mall at UMD. Thousands of college students stood in complete silence to remember those who had died the day before. It was a very moving experience and one I'll never forget.