Student, professors recall events of 9/11

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“A lot of people had impressions not to go into work that day. A lot of people.”

So said Kevin Kelly, an advertising professor at BYU, who boarded a train to his office in New York City later than most on Sept. 11, 2001. But arriving late was customary at Ogilvy  Mather, the advertising agency where Kelly was a creative director at the time. Having another passenger speak to him on the train, however, was not.

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Flags fly the Utah Healing Field in Sandy on Saturday, September 10, 2011. Each flag represented a victim of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
“[The train]’s just not a place that you chat,” Kelly said “So the fact that someone got up and said a plane just hit the twin towers was a little odd.”

Despite the news, Kelly said most on board with him still had yet to fully realize what had happened. He and some of his fellow passengers come up with theories about how a small, low-flying plane had accidentally crashed into one of the largest structures on Earth. Then, for just a moment, the passengers glimpsed the towers as the train crossed the Harlem River.

“There was a time — it was maybe three seconds — that we could see the tower on fire,” Kelly said. “It was just one tower at the time, and that was disturbing. Then we heard that a plane had hit the second tower, and then we knew.”

By the time Kelly arrived at work, several of his coworkers had already turned around to board a train home. Kelly, however, remained at the office to watch the morning’s events unfold on television. Eventually, an order to evacuate all tall buildings in New York was issued, and Kelly joined the rest of the city in an attempt to return home to his family. Trains and subways had ceased operating, so Kelly attempted to walk home.

“Traffic was at a standstill,” Kelly said. “We were walking faster than cars were going.”

The general tranquility of the day also disturbed Kelly.

“It was quiet,” he said. “And it was such a busy, noisy city that to not hear traffic was odd. Noises suddenly became something you noticed. It was such a beautiful day … it was just very odd, but somehow very comforting.”

While transportation and communications within New York shut down, those living in the surrounding communities worried about family members working in the city. Alex Lysenkao, a junior from New Canaan, Conn., majoring in teaching social science, said she remembered her teacher asking a cryptic question.

“I remember my teacher asking if my dad worked in New York,” said Lysenkao, who was 10 years old and living in New Jersey at the time. “And then asking what floor he worked on.”

Her teacher made no further mention of the day’s events in class, but Lysenkao overheard a conversation in the hallway regarding an attack on the World Trade Center. Because Lysenkao was more accustomed to the twin towers’ nickname, she came to believe the attack had happened at Grand Central Station, where her father took the train to and from work. On her way home, Lysenkao met high school students who claimed planes were attacking random buildings. She wouldn’t find out what had happened in the city that day until she arrived home.

Her dad worked in an office building several blocks away from the twin towers, but even then, her family didn’t get in touch with her father until late that night.

“I remember my mom was really scared, and we were scared, too,” Lysenkao said.

In the meanwhile, then-BYU president Merrill Bateman and his wife had spent the morning preparing for the first Devotional of the new school year when they heard of the events in New York over their radio.

“We knew almost immediately that what we had prepared was not appropriate for that day,” Elder Bateman said. He and his wife began considering their options for the day, wondering whether they should change the scheduled Devotional’s topic, or else cancel the Devotional entirely. They soon concluded “it would be wise to gather everyone together and discuss the events of the day.”

As more information about the attacks became available, Elder Bateman said another concern arose on campus — that students from other countries might be singled out by BYU’s students, and so he and his wife delivered a message of peace and forgiveness to the students that morning. Elder Bateman said he also attempted to convince the gathered students that they would be safe on campus.

“We wanted to give a sense of peace to people, that Christ … teaches love,” Elder Bateman said. “Only through the gospel can we find peace.”

Over the next few days, Kelly, who was serving as the bishop of his ward in New York, said he prepared to help members of his congregation come to terms with the reality of the attacks and to offer his assistance to those who lost friends and family in the towers. But a miracle soon became apparent — not a single member of his ward had been killed in the attack. The death of only one LDS individual, a waiter who worked at the Windows of the World restaurant at the top of one of the towers, was confirmed.

“There’s just so many stories of people being miraculously saved,” Kelly said.

When it became apparent that his ward would not be as affected as Kelly had anticipated, he decided to involve himself in a service project his company had taken on. Throughout the rest of the year, Kelly and his colleagues reached out to the families of the firefighters from a local fire station, one of the first to respond to the attack. Many of the firefighters from that station had died attempting to save others from the collapsing towers. For months, Kelly helped to shower the firefighters’ families with reminders of their appreciation for each family’s sacrifice.

“It was a tough time,” Kelly said, “and yet there was this spirit in New York that was positive.”

Across the nation, thousands struggled with the reality of the attacks. Elder Bateman, who had worked for a consulting firm in the towers before coming to BYU, said although his previous coworkers and clients had all escaped the towers, he found the attackers’ actions incomprehensible.

“What would drive people to hijack an airplane full of innocent people and drive them to their deaths?” Elder Bateman said. “I guess people can hate, and be taught to hate, to the point that people can do those things.”

Lysenkao said she, too, had difficulty coming to terms with the attacks.

“It was the first time I saw how much anger and hatred was in the word,” she said, adding that her father, who felt a strong attachment to the twin towers, took the attacks especially hard.

Her family traveled to New York to view ground zero together only a month later. They returned to visit the 9/11 memorial currently under construction just this last summer.

“A lot has changed,” Lysenkao said. “It’s crazy that it was 10 years ago. A moment like that — it still feels so real.”

Elder Bateman said the attacks have taught the nation important lessons about the need for security that have left a positive impact. Kelly agreed, saying although he feels some Americans need to cease holding the Muslim nation guilty for the attacks, he learned an important lesson about the innate goodness of humankind.

“New York has a soft center, they just put up this front to survive,” Kelly said. “Most people care about other people.”

 

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