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Community stops to remember 9/11
West Hall Middle School seventh-grader Jennifer Orantes, 12, places a star on a mural Thursday in memory of those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. Orantes, who was 3 at the time, was in Central Park when the World Trade Center towers came down. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Jennifer Orantes remembers walking through the streets of New York when the World Trade Center towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. She was 3.

Now 12, Orantes attends West Hall Middle School and usually remembers the anniversary by silently reflecting on the images in her mind.

"It was great growing up there in New York. My parents and I wanted to visit Central Park for once and saw and heard the explosions that morning," she said. "We started walking toward home, trying to ignore it so we didn't start crying. It was really shocking because we were walking and having fun, and then we saw the twin towers go down and people trying to jump out of the windows."

The rest of the day was silence nine years ago.

"We didn't want to talk about it, and it was all over the news," she said. "Where I went to preschool, people started talking about it."

In 2003, her parents wanted to move from an apartment to a house and "start new," so they took jobs in Georgia, Orantes said.

"I've told some friends, and they can't believe I was there," she said. "Usually on the anniversary, I want to keep quiet and not remember what happened because it was really sad."

Orantes was part of a group of students at West Hall Middle who created a mural this week to remember what happened. Beth Stege, a special education teacher at the school, organizes a 9/11 project each year to bring students, teachers and staff together.

"It's an important tradition and will be a part of history," Stege said. "Some of the middle school kids today can't really remember it because they were young, but they need to remember. It will be in the history books."

The school creates a different project every year - making quilts or drawing posters - and Stege tries to involve as many members of the schools as possible. On this year's mural, custodians and lunchroom workers have also signed their names to say, "Yes, I remember."

"Next year, for the 10th anniversary, we're planning a big project," Stege said. "It really means something to me, and although I didn't lose anyone, it affected my life. I think it affected everybody's life in some way."

Across Hall County, people will remember. Gainesville's Veterans of Foreign Wars Post on Delta Drive will serve food to members of Charlie Company around 10:30 a.m. this morning.

Alex English, a Boy Scout of Troop No. 203 who attends South Hall Middle School, will serve lunch to the firefighters at Station 5 on Martin Road in Flowery Branch.

"It's such a monumental day in our country," his mom Andrea Williamson-English said. "Alex wanted to serve them as a fundraiser and got sponsors, and when it fell on this day, it became even more special."

Gainesville Fire Department and Gainesville Police Department officials are meeting at Fire Station 1 on Jesse Jewell Parkway at 9:30 a.m. today and invite the public to attend for a moment of silence.

"We will never forget those who gave all that day, both in public safety and outside of the public safety realm," Fire Chief Jon Canada said. "Each one of us has a story that we can tell about where we were, what we did afterward and how we felt."

Guards from both departments will stand at the flag pole between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., marking the two hours when the towers were hit and collapsed. Canada will speak at 9:50 a.m., followed by Police Chief Brian Kelly at 9:55 a.m.

Officials will stop traffic on Jesse Jewell at 10 a.m. and ring the fire bell in three sets of five before observing one complete minute of silence.

"Stopping the traffic will make that truly one minute of silence," Canada said. "We never want to forget those who died and the families they left behind, so we can take a moment out of our busy schedules to remember them and the families who no longer have them."

Gov. Sonny Perdue has ordered all flags to be at half staff until sunset and asked all businesses and residents of the state to observe a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m.

On Friday night, the Flowery Branch High School football team honored 9/11 before kickoff by wearing commemorative jerseys. The red shirts signified the blood that was shed, camouflage numbers represented the injured veterans in the nation's Armed Forces, and the logo dedicated the season to the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Col. Andy L. Hall, commander of the 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade of the Georgia Army National Guard, was honored on the field and given one of the jerseys after the coin toss. Coach Lee Shaw is selling the jerseys and doing fundraisers in the school to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, which supports severely injured service members.