By Janae Willardson
Seeing the black smoke billowing from the Pentagon out of her apartment window was a sight Laurel Walker did not expect to be a part of her BYU Washington D.C. Seminar experience.
“On the morning of Sept. 11 I woke up feeling sick,” said Walker, 21, an English major, from Alamo, Calif.
Not giving much thought to the random feeling of being sick, Walker said she feel back to sleep.
Thirty minutes after calling in sick she woke to the phone ringing. It was her mother”s panicked voice, asking if she was okay.
“When my mom realized I had no idea what she was talking about she told me to turn on the TV. I turned on the TV and the rest of my day was full of tears and fear,” Walker said.
She said the planes crashing into the towers in New York were hard enough to bare but what was even more terrifying was seeing a crashed plane in the side of the Pentagon, a building that was just a few miles away from her apartment.
“I could see the smoke from my apartment window and knowing that another plane was heading for D.C. was terrifying,” she said.
Before the plane in Pennsylvania crashed Walker said she feared it would hit the Capitol Building.
“I spent the day alone in my apartment, crying on the couch, glued to the TV. I was on the phone with my family all day,” she said.
Walker said she felt incredibly lucky to be in her apartment that morning.
“Amazingly enough, about 15 other members of my Washington Seminar group had also called in sick that morning. We all lived in the same apartment complex and felt lucky to be home and be with each other,” she said.
She worried about her roommates and people in her office all day. Some of her friends were unable to get out of the area and return home until 3 p.m., Walker said.
“I don”t know first hand what things were like near the Pentagon but it was still chaotic,” she said.
Everyday for the next three months Walker drove past the Pentagon on her way to work. She said the sight of the destructive hole on the side of the Pentagon was a daily reminder of the tragedy.
“Every time I past it I felt sick to my stomach. It was so real, so close. Pictures of people went through my head and I just cried thinking what they must have gone through,” Walker said.
She said the events of Sept. 11 greatly changed her experience in D.C. working for a Congressman.
“I was exposed to current events all day long. Whatever legislation was going on prior to that day came to a stop,” she said.
Walker”s post-September 11 experience as an intern revolved around legislation on terrorism, home security and airline security.
As an intern for Congressman Lantos, the ranking member of the International Relations Committee Walker attended several hearings on the actions to be taken to stop terrorism.
“My work days became consumed with this subject,” she said.
The events of Sept. 11 changed the tone of all aspects of life in Washington D.C., Walker said. The Washington Seminar program focused on feeling safe and understanding what the students had experienced.
“Things around Capitol Hill and Washington D.C. were dismal,” she said. “However, it was one of the most patriotic times I have ever seen. There were flags everywhere and it felt like everyone in the city was united.”
After the attacks Walker said she wanted to go home and be with her family because she was scared. Now looking back on fall semester last year she is thankful for her time in Washington D.C.
“I experienced something that not many people did and I will never, ever forget it,” she said.