12 September 2011

My own story of September 11.

:::EDIT: This post is ridiculously long.  Forgive me, like most of this blog, it's more for me than for anyone.  Today, I simply wanted to document my own memories and 9/11 experience.:::

I haven't spent much time focusing on the significance of this date.

(I did that alot several years ago.  About five years ago, as a request for my birthday, Brian gave me a beautiful picture book and two DVDs of news coverage from 9.11.01.  For whatever reason, I was highly interested in what happened today a decade ago.  I spent hours and hours scouring the internet and reading the ins and outs of what happened that day.  I have watched these videos numerous times.  I have been wrapped up in the awful and awesome story of what happened on 9/11.)

But today, I let all of this pass me, without giving much attention to it.

Maybe I will regret that I didn't soak in the significance of today, the tenth anniversary of September 11th.  But, I believe, there will be many more 9/11 remberances in the future...and calling up grief from this life-changing day today is, frankly, too close to the recent grief I have felt from our own personal day that forever changed our life as we knew it.

But I can't allow the day to pass without at least documenting my memories of this day ten years ago...

I remember it being incredibly wild to experience.  I was in college at the time.  I was in my junior year.  I had just woken up that morning and was getting ready for class when I flipped on the Today Show like I always did.  I saw the anchors talking about a random fire coming from one of the World Trade Center buildings.  Matt or Katie were saying they thought a plane had hit the building.  I called my mom because I knew the situation was breaking news and I wanted her to know about it.

My mom and I were on the phone when I watched, in horror, another plane hit another building.  I couldn't believe it.  My mom and I sat on the phone in shock.  It was evident that the Today Show anchors had no clue what was going on, which made what I was watching more frightening and more compelling.

We were watching when the towers fell.  I vividly remember Matt or Katie mentioning that it looked like one of the towers, which was on fire, was leaning to one side.  And then, again watching in horror, I watched the towers begin to crumble into pieces.

Not fully realizing the importance of what I was seeing, I continued getting ready for class and eventually hung up with my mom and headed to campus.  While class was held, it was evident that the only thing people wanted to talk about was what they had seen that morning. 

Like most all Americans watching that day, it was all I could do not to walk away from my TV.  This was the first time "crawlers" at the bottom of the TV began rolling regularly.  This was when terrorism became the new buzz word.  And this was when plane travel began to change for ever.

But my memories of 9/11 continue past that day.

I remember, just a day later, observing the mass panic to fill up cars with gas.  I was there too.  I wasn't in panic, I merely needed gas.  So I was forced to wait in line behind the scores of cars lined up at the Texaco trying to fill their tanks (a "worse case" preparation).

While waiting, I listened to our local news coverage of the aftermath of 9/11.  I very vividly remember hearing a local TV anchor interview a terrorism expert from the University of Missouri.  The anchor said, "So, rumor has it that there is a local connection to terrorism right here in Columbia.  Is this true?"  The local terrorism expert denied this and said there was nothing to worry about.

But something within me thought, "there is a hint of truth to every rumor.  I bet there is something there."  And the gears in my head began to turn.

I was a junior at the University of Missouri and an active reporter for the local NBC affiliate at the time.  I began researching furiously.  I went to the internet and found that, in fact, there was some vague mention in a reputable newspaper of a terror cell in Columbia, Missouri.  Through a series of phone calls (including one overseas), I tracked down the author of the article.

I went lit right into it with him, knowing he was likely a busy reporter who had no time for me.  I said, "listen, our town is in a panic!  I think it is irresponsible journalism to mention Columbia Missouri as being a place with terrorists and giving us no more information that that!"

He paused for a second.  My heart beat loudly in my chest as I waited for him to answer or hang up on me.

And then he said, "Tell you what, can I call you back?  I'm about to go on the set of MSNBC for an interview.  But I'll call you back as soon as I get off."

I sat there stunned.  I politely (albeit, sheepishly) agreed and hung up.  I had no idea I had called someone of any importance.

And then, I raced to my TV to find this international Terrorism Expert speaking to one of the MSNBC anchors.  If I was nervous before, I was certainly more nervous when I did receive a call back from the man (whose name I'll keep close to the chest, for now).  He was very kind to put me in touch with one of his sources.

This source was amazing.  He went on to give me alot more information about the Columbia, Missouri terrorist connection, which was in fact true.  The terrorist, who was long gone by now, had been mentioned in a Supreme Court case and was documented to have the satellite phone Osama Bin Laden used for the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

More information came from my source about a local muslim "charity" in Columbia called Islamic American Relief Agency, which was believed to have funneled money for the use of terrorism.   For many years, IARA defended itself, until years later the FBI came in and shut them down.

I shared my information about Columbia's terrorism connection in several news packages on TV.  It was by far my proudest news moment and my most hard earned news story of my short career as a reporter.  I was the first in the area to break this story on TV, which gave me great confidence in my love for investigative journalism.

I later went on to fall in love with my husband, and therefore, decided to put my TV reporter hat away.  But my effort to find the story was less about being a great journalist and more about my desire to make a difference after having seen such terrible sadness and loss on this day ten years ago.

Those of us who watched 9/11 unfold sat helplessly, unable to rescue those that seemed, on TV, within centimeters from us.  But this was my moment to try.  Sharing the story of terrorism that sat in our local town was my effort to expose the terrorism that lingered not too far from where we sat at watched 9/11 happen.

September 11, 2001 was particularly sad for me as I had just lived in New York a month before.  I had finished up an internship at CNBC and had several times visited the money district.  My friend and I had actually visited the World Trade Center just weeks before they towers fell.  We had wanted to go to the top to enjoy the view of New York.  But we ended up getting distracted by the mall that was in the basement of the WTC.  I have a last picture and a receipt from my experience there (I'll post when I can find it).  It's a bittersweet reminder of my own story of September 11th. 

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