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High school freshmen reflect on 9/11

POSTED: September 11, 2013 12:25 a.m.

Gainesville High School freshman Meg Thornton was a toddler when the events of Sept. 11, 2001, unfolded before the eyes of a horrified nation.

“I was 2,” she said. “I went upstairs and got a piece of paper and some crayons, and I drew two rectangles and a plane crashing into it. My mom saw me ... and I was like, ‘Bad man crash plane.’”

Of course, that’s not Thornton’s personal memory. She only knows she did that because her mother told her. Thornton specifically remembers first hearing about Sept. 11 when she was in third grade, from her music teacher.
East Hall High School freshman Tristen Dover said he was in first grade when he learned about that day.

“People were talking about it,” he said, “and I didn’t know what they were talking about.

“It was a shock that people could kill people,” Dover added. “And with that day care at the bottom (of the World Trade Center), a lot of babies died.”

Dover’s classmate Jessenia Argueta said the most upsetting thing about 9/11 is thinking about the victims.

“All of these innocent people were just going to work,” she said. “They were just doing what they were going to do that day. And out of nowhere, they were just attacked.”

Today’s high school freshmen were, for the most part, born in 1998 and 1999, making their memories of 9/11 virtually nonexistent. They grew up in a world with heightened security. However, they are still very much aware that the events of that day in 2001 have shaped not only their lives, but the country around them.

“Like going on airplanes,” said Jasen Johnson, a freshman at Flowery Branch. “Going through security, like, I know it’s for a reason but it’s annoying. But I know it’s because of 9/11, and they don’t want it to happen again. They learned from experience.”

His classmate, Amy McDonald, agreed.

“I fly a lot, so going through security is the biggest hassle in the world,” she said. “Sometimes I see it like it’s more trouble than it’s worth. I mean, I know they need to screen everyone. But it’s almost a constant reminder that there’s people that hate America.”

Gainesville High student Elizabeth Duncan also has traveled extensively and said her mom has told her there didn’t used to be so many procedures to go through.

“Even if your plane takes off at 12 — before 9/11 happened you could just get there at 11 and just go through security like normal and wait a few minutes before you had to get on the plane,” she said. “Now you have to get there a few hours early. ...”

With all those restrictions in place, Duncan’s classmate Thomas Alexander said he feels safer going out into the world.

“I think that could happen again,” he said. “Anything could really happen, but the United States is doing a lot better job in preventing it. I mean, I feel like it could happen, but it’s a lot less likely than it would have been 10 or so years ago.

He said, however, he was glad to have the awareness there is today.

“I don’t come to school and feel a threat. I don’t feel threatened if I go to a movie theater or any public thing, that I’m going to be injured or in harm’s way.”

Argueta agreed.

“Like, it could happen again,” she said. “Chances are just not as much as back then.”

Duncan said she sometimes wonders what could have been if 9/11 never happened.

“There could have been worse things that could have happened in the future if the right procedures weren’t taken after,” she said. “Like, there could have been (more) crashes, or more terrorist attacks than there have been because of the awareness that was brought up.”

When discussing 9/11, though, a more recent incident kept coming up as one that changed the country and increased security.

“I think the thing that’s going to define our lives and what’s going to change it was the shooting in the schools,” Thornton said, referring to the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. “Because after that happened, when we got back from the break, the school was so different.”

She said all students had to have identification badges when they returned to school, and they could no longer go outside or be in the hallway without teacher supervision.

“It made me go through the drills more seriously,” Johnson said. “Because I usually joke around when the drills are going on. But now I take it seriously because things like that can happen.”

East Hall student Ruben Ramirez agreed.

“I do get scared sometimes when I think about it,” he said. “If it doesn’t happen to me, it could happen to my little brother who is in elementary school, or my little cousins.”

“I guess I would just want to know what goes through someone’s mind to go into an elementary school and shoot a bunch of little kids,” Dover added.

Another recent incident brought up was the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

McDonald pointed to those incidents as reminders that it’s not necessarily a safer world, even with the lessons learned from 9/11 and the more recent mass shootings.

“I mean, it is safer with the airports,” McDonald said. “But if they can figure out how to — if someone could figure out how to sneak a bottle on the plane then ... I mean, people are smart. There’s ways through everything. No system is perfect.”

McDonald’s classmate Rachel Fitzpatrick agreed, adding that people can bypass almost any security system in place.

“I think it’s a more dangerous world now,” Fitzpatrick said. “It sort of scares me seeing how crazy people were then.

“Criminals are getting weirder,” she added. “As we are getting safer, they are getting crazier.”

While these freshmen don’t have the memory of what life was like in the 1990s, they are almost wistful when discussing how life could be different if 9/11 never happened.

“It reminds me of the movie ‘Forrest Gump,’” McDonald said. “How, it’s like, he goes from innocence and then goes to war and kind of loses that childlike innocence.”

She said that’s what America went through on 9/11.

“I’ve been in airports and see little kids, like 6 years old, go through the little detector scan thing,” she continued. “Then, they forgot to take a little plastic watch off, and they have to get a pat-down. And, it’s not violating, but it’s like, a 6-year-old kid.”

Fitzpatrick agreed, saying she wonders what it would be like to truly feel secure.

“I wonder how it was, say, 50 years ago,” she said. “No one locked their doors. No one had alarms in those days. I don’t even know if that existed. People could just walk out of their house. People could do fun things.

“I don’t know,” she continued. “Just like, you see ’50s movies and old movies and stuff like that. Sometimes I wonder if we could ever experience that. I wonder how it feels to feel secure like that.”


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